Practical Technology

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Carol Bartz at Yahoo: Set up to fail?

Let me say this straight out: I think Carol Bartz was a great CEO. She worked miracles at Autodesk. Bartz took a company headed straight to hell and transformed it into a profitable giant. At Autodesk, though, she had a free hand to set the company’s course. At Yahoo, her hands were tied with a lousy board of directors who had already set a strategic course that pointed Yahoo straight at the rocks. Bartz was doomed from the start.

Look at the record. Bartz made multiple smart moves to get Yahoo back on track, but the company was already sinking underneath her. Frankly, I blame Yahoo’s stick-in-the-mud board. As my old-friend Charlie Cooper put it, “With a board of directors as incompetent as this one, even the most talented CEO would be hard pressed to engineer a Yahoo turnaround.” Amen.

Let’s take the way-back machine to Yahoo 2009 shall we? Yahoo has beaten back a hostile takeover attempt by Microsoft, knocked back a related proxy fight with Carl Icahn, many of its best executives have left and it has a failed AdSense/search deal with Google to its “credit.”

When I say “hostile” by the way I meant that then Yahoo CEO Jerry Yang thought Microsoft’s $47 billion offer was “substantially undervalued.” Let me check, yes, a bit more than two years later, Yahoo’s market-cap is $17.1 billion. Great job Yang!

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