Yahoo?

By most accounts, Carol Bartz is a sensational senior executive.  And there is no doubt that she will do great things for Yahoo where she was appointed CEO yesterday

But is she well rounded?  Does she have that deep knowledge of consumers, markets and culture she needs?

There's not much in the way of reassurance in Bartz's bio.  Here's what BusinessWeek says about her:

Carol A. Bartz has been Chief Executive Officer and Chairman of Autodesk, Inc., (a supplier of computer design tools) since April 1992. Ms. Bartz served as President of Autodesk, Inc. from April 1992 to September 1996. Prior to that, Ms. Bartz was with Sun Microsystems from January 1983 to April 1992, most recently as Vice President of Worldwide Field Operations. She has been a Director of Cisco Systems Inc. since November 1996 and Autodesk Inc. since 1992. She has been a Director of Network Appliance Inc. since September 1995 and serves as a Member of Compensation and Nominating Committees. She has been a Director of BEA Systems Inc., since November 1995 and serves as a Member of Compensation, Nominating and Governance Committees. She serves as a Director of The New York Stock Exchange. She served as a Director of Airtouch Communications Inc., since February 1994 and was a Member of the Compensation & Personnel Committee. She served as a Director of Cadence Design Systems. Ms. Bartz received a B.A. Degree in Computer Science from the University of Wisconsin.

In short, Bartz is a Valley girl, a Silicon Valley girl.  She is pretty much all tech.  Christa Quarles, analyst at Thomas Weisel, sees a problem.

The most glaring deficiencies are that she has no consumer or Internet or advertising experience.  The question is whether she will bring someone is who can fill those deficiencies. 

Running Autodesk did not take a deep knowledge of culture, but Yahoo is another matter.  It may well be that her "real" assignment is to execute the sale to Microsoft, but if she is in this for the longer haul, a question may be asked, is Bartz ready for this new order of problem solving?  Can she solve the narrow marketing and broader cultural issues with which Yahoo is now confronted?  

But of course, it may be that she will hire someone to address these "deficiencies," as Quarles calls them.  On the other hand, I wonder if these deficiencies do not actually describe the most urgent parts of her assignment.  These "deficiencies," the things she does not know, the problems she has never had to solve, these might fairly be said to be her job

It's as if we are looking at a reverse mirror image of Terry Semel, the former Yahoo CEO.  If Semel didn't ever seem to grasp the industry, it's not clear that Bartz grasps more than the industry.  Partial is always a problem.  And when you are up against nimble, gifted competitors like Google, partial is a tragedy.  

References

Helft, Miguel.  2009.  Former Chief of Autodesk Takes Reins at Yahoo.  New York Times. January 14, 2009. 


2 thoughts on “Yahoo?”

  1. I think Bartz is their best chance. She is far less likely to be wedded to the founders’ fixed ideas about Yahoo and far more likely to ask unpleasant but necessary questions such as “how is this initiative likely to pay off?” and “why are we spending money on this?” and “why do people use Yahoo?” and “why do people not use Yahoo?” Those seem like the kinds of questions that need to be asked to get their ship righted whether or not a sale of the company occurs.

    As for popular culture, I don’t see why that’s a big issue for a company that basically is a content aggregator and bolt-on front end for users. Google isn’t making lots of money because of its agility with popular culture.

  2. Well, I’m adopting a wait-and-see stance. First off, thank god they got *somebody* in there. The drift during the wait was spiraling downwards.

    As you mention — Yahoo is a true online media company — it brings together both leading edge tech (and yes, it does take good tech to serve up some of their offerings) and media/content. It’s a hybrid in a new cojoint industry space. But there aren’t yet many (any?) executives who have credentials in both spaces.

    Traditional media and traditional tech are very different in many ways — industry structures, skill sets valued, career paths, organizational cultures. Yahoo’s tried bringing in media veterans (Semel being the prime example, but there have been others) and as a rule, they’ve failed (with a few exceptions). Many old-school media veterans just don’t seem to be able adapt their formidable knowledge/skills to the online world.

    Likewise, people from the tech world have struggled with the media piece — yet Yahoo has become one of the most successful companies in the world at monetizing online media properties. Yeah, they could be better…but a lot of Yahoo’s problems seem to stem from poor operational leadership. People there have good ideas, but they struggle to get implemented due to internal BS/politics/whatever.

    So even if all Bartz does is clear the runways so that good ideas can fly and instill greater operational discipline, better decision making methods, etc (rather like Hurd has done at HP) — that alone will be very valuable.

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