What’s Next? Carol Bartz and Yahoo!

Congratulations to Carol Bartz for accepting the CEO role at Yahoo!

A female CEO who has a CS /engineering degree, has run a successful enterprise software company(and sat on the board of several others), has history with the VC community in the Valley, and started hammering on an IBM 1620 back in 1967 is nothing to sneer at, especially when the alternative was either nothing or some secret plan no one really knew (like, nothing?)

On one hand I want to say how thrilled I am that Yahoo! has chosen such a competent manager and long time CEO; on the other, even if she’s not from the ad-driven side of the planet, I want to give her advice about what the company looks like from the edges of the inside, based both on my talking with people who are still there and what I hear from those who have left.
 
So, welcome, Carol, and here’s some things to know:

  • The rank and file is hangin’ in there, but they are pretty damned fried. Yahoo! is a sweet deal for certain sorts of front end engineer and product developer types, but even the most stalwart (survived 3 layoffs) are starting to look around.
  • Last time, the old guard won. Mostly, it’s the old-timers–not the social media kids, the Microsofties, or the start-up animals–who are still there. And they protect their buddies, and their turf. So, remember, they’ve survived LOTS of re-orgs and, like moss, they’re still growing there.
  • Yahoo finds it easier to say no to new things, especially if they are a tad R&D or don’t fit into a fiefdom.  Flickr photo stock, Brickhouse Privacy Detective–there are lots of good ideas that went unfunded and were let go of because some big gun didn’t want to put his (or her) neck out.
  • Yahoo also finds it easier to say no to old things, unless one of those big guns thinks it will advance their careers.  My knowledge of Yahoo! Personals is over a year old, but the lack of investment and support for what was always one of the most visited dating sites in the category, with a great rate of return, seemed inexplicable.
  • Yahoo! has fads. After all, doesn’t putting all the resources on the next big thing usually result in a great solution? While the exec team doesn’t like to bet on known risk, a couple of cute MBAs with a big slide deck (especially if they are expensive consultants) have been great reasons to do re-orgs and out everyone on new projects that, ultimately, fail to launch (or maybe are still in development, 12 months later, who knows?)
  • t’s a great company.  For all the crap, and all the silliness, Yahoo! has some amazing people and good will it is hard to let go of. 

I would love to see you, Carol, revive Yahoo! and make it shine again, with all the promise and fervor I saw in 2006 when I got there.

I would also love to see you help the stock go back up, so all my friends who are left and came when I did don’t have those shares underwater and shareholders have more value.

Carol you are coming into a media circus, and that, as well, is going to be challenging. Ignore the comparisons to Carly Fiorina that some fool will offer and just do your job–a fresh point of view from someone who describes herself as tough, but fair, will go a long way–especially coupled with operational excellence.

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  1. Lisa Williams says:

    Susan, do you think this is an example of the “glass cliff”?
    The Harvard Business Review recently revisited this phenomenon, where women are overrepresented in what they call “precarious leadership positions.” That is, they’re set up to fail by being given opportunities to lead only after a company is in so much trouble that it’s too late to do anything except dismantle it.
    So, your determination: golden opportunity, or glass cliff?

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