Kara Swisher

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As Yahoo Sales Reorg Proceeds, Former Interclick CEO Katz Departs


Michael Katz, one of Yahoo’s high-ranking online advertising execs, is leaving the company, according to a memo he sent out to staff on Friday.

Considered a savvy online ad player and a well-regarded entrepreneur, Katz came to the Silicon Valley Internet giant a year ago when it bought Interclick, the ad-targeting company he co-founded and headed, for $270 million.

Yahoo later used Interclick’s technology in its audience-buying platform called Genome. In a reorganization announced in January, Katz was placed in charge of sales operations and data and performance optimization for Genome.

The data unit is at the center of efforts by Yahoo’s new CEO Marissa Mayer to turbocharge its ad business.

But the Katz missive, which is below in its entirety, clearly signaled that his departure was not an amicable one, which sources underscored was part of a larger rejiggering of the ad sales staff under new COO Henrique De Castro.

“As some of you are starting to learn, my last day with the company will be today,” wrote Katz on Friday. “Leaving Y! is not the hard part — how it happened and leaving all of you is what makes this difficult.”

How it happened, said several sources, was that Katz was suddenly told by HR head Jackie Reses last week that there was not a place for him, only days before a large 12-month retention bonus was to be paid out to him for the Interclick acquisition.

While it is an unusual thing to part on willfully difficult terms with an entrepreneur, as it sends a bad signal to others considering joining the company, Yahoo’s new leadership has been playing hardball with a lot of top execs it is parting ways with, and is also limiting departure packages.

Former marketing head Mollie Spillman, for example, was suddenly let go after she was replaced by former Lockerz CEO Kathy Savitt. And, though he had wanted to leave, former CFO Tim Morse was also told of his replacement in a swift exec house-cleaning move, as was former HR head David Windley.

Of course, such moves are not unusual when a new set of leaders enters the corporate picture. That’s why many at Yahoo expect even more changes to come soon in the ad unit, with most assuming that Mayer and De Castro will bring in new staff they had previously worked with at Google.

Currently, top Yahoo ad execs include Peter Foster, GM of audience advertising at Yahoo; and Mark Ellis, VP of North American sales and global partnerships.

It will be interesting to see what happens to them and others as part of a large ad reorg at Yahoo now taking place, which will definitely include a variety of departures and arrivals. One recent notable Yahoo ad exec departure, for example, was Debbie Menin, who headed entertainment and travel sales strategy, and is now a top sales exec at hot video entertainment network Machinima.

More will come in the new year, given that De Castro has recently briefed employees on a plan to move its sales organization to a “category” model. Simply put, that means its sales reps will sell all of Yahoo’s ad products, as well as its search offerings, in a vertical process organized around advertiser segments.

That massive shift is not Katz’s to worry about anymore, it seems. Here’s his entire email to staff, which is a pretty eloquent one, as goodbye letters go:

Friends and Colleagues,

6 years ago if someone would have told me that the hardest part about building a business would be to one day say goodbye, I would not have believed them. As some of you are starting to learn, my last day with the company will be today. Leaving Y! is not the hard part — how it happened and leaving all of you is what makes this difficult. I will miss the daily interactions and will take with me the many memories. This has honestly been so much fun.

I have learned a lot along the way:

Sometimes winning looks like losing. If you don’t fail, you can’t progress and the stakes only get bigger as you go further down your path.

Be genuinely happy for those that are successful at reaching their goals. If you spend anytime wishing it were you, it will never be.

Stay humble, and never declare victory.

Approximately correct is better than definitely wrong. Do not let perfection be the enemy of excellence.

We are all human — we may make mistakes, we must forgive, forget, and move on together.

Treating people right is not an option.

Treat adults like adults and they will behave like adults. Rules are for children.

People and culture are everything. It’s about so much more than free food and parties, it cannot be forced and without it a business cannot succeed.

I consider myself so very lucky to have known a handful of loyal friends that took a chance, quit their jobs and risked a lot to build this business with me. Their loyalty and hard work helped interclick get off the ground and for that I will forever be grateful. The team they helped to build has truly made this the greatest place to work. Each and every one of you made interclick the very best company to work for.

I would like to leave you all with a reminder of what together we built:

— A company that started with $27,000 and sold for $270,000,000

— A company that redefined the way that marketers think about audience targeting and data

— A company that went public in 2009 on NASDAQ defying all odds

— A company that spit in the face of adversity early in 2011 and came out victorious

— A company whose people are the future of this organization.

So be proud of what together we achieved, look back and know you were part of something big. Then look ahead and know that this is just the beginning, we will all one day build again. For those of you that continue your career at Y!, I ask that you don’t lose sight of greatness. Remember what you are capable of and continue to make me proud.

Thank you for your loyalty, passion, dedication, and collaboration. The finish line is only the beginning of a new race.


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— David Pogue on why he’s joining Yahoo