Yahoo CEOs: less vision than Ray Charles

January 4, 2012 · 1 comment in tech business

Yahoo! has announced appointment of a new CEO: Scott Thompson. Who, you might ask? Well he’s a guy who lifted PayPal from a billion-dollar subsidiary of eBay into a multibillion dollar entity. What does he plan to do, you might ask. Well, he doesn’t yet. In a conference call with press and analysts he kept emphasizing that he just got there and he needs time.

That’s precisely what Carol Bartz said for the years during which she was at the helm, watching the Yahoo ship slowly and steadily sink below the sea of change that the company has ignored for more than a decade.

How will Yahoo under Thompson be different from Yahoo under Thompson? He doesn’t know he needs time and thus the once-magnificent Yahoo, once a flagship of online consumerism continues to sink–perhaps just little faster.

Yahoo used to be filled with young, bright, irreverent determined talent. They were part of the culture that moved people’s habits online. It was where we began to talk with each other, shopped, got our news, stored and shared our photos. It is one of the fountainheads from which sprung the ideas and entities that dominate online today.

It’s survival has been in question for a long time and before that it’s direction as well as it’s decision-making. It’s founder declared search to be worthless, which turned out to be a bit short-sighted. His replacement had a vision to Hollywood and Silicon Valley cultures.  That seemed like it would be as daunting as getting sheep and cattle to graze on the same land. It proved to be harder than mating them.

The talent in the company remained for many years at the middle of the company. They did not start leaving the ship when the leaks began. They only started leaving–reluctantly when they realized that the decision-making level was clueless on how to stem the leaks and adjust course.

In short, Yahoo is one big directionless mess, lacking mission, vision, talent and a constituency that includes, early adopters, social strategists and a compelling reason for any adviser to choose them over companies like Google who thought search had some chance of being worthwhile.

Into this steps Scott Thompson. I never heard of him before today, which says nothing about his ability to lead and inspire a foundering and demoralized team. I’ve read a bit about him today and could find not a single quality in his past to make me feel any more confident today than I did yesterday in terms of Yahoo’s future.

What I see is someone who managed PayPal during a period of organic growth. He replaced the innovators and disrupters who started the company and made it valuable, and he made PayPal dull but valuable.  Yahoo is already dull. It loses more value every day.

What had I hoped would happen? Who would I have looked for to replace the acerbic Carol Bartz?

Well, I would have looked for someone very different from Bartz. The only difference I see is that the new captain does not swear like a sailor. Other than that, they are both visionless managers who understand operating margins and SEC regulations and none of the stuff that goes to the soul of a living corporation.

Yahoo needs a visionary leader. Instead, they chose someone who seems to have less vision than Ray Charles, and I doubt he can sing or play the piano with any unique style.

Yahoo needed as Steve Jobs. Instead they got something that is quieter and grayer. They need to find and excite new, younger

customers. Instead they have someone who understands operational efficiencies. They needed a showman of  Nolan Bushnell qualities. Instead they have selected someone with all the charisma of a tax auditor. They need someone who can present a vision to a new generation of users, rather than faire well at a shareholders’ meeting.

Yahoo needs to join the social conversation. Bartz eschewed it completely. She thought that Yahoo’s customers were the advertisers, when in fact they are the people advertisers want to reach and we have left Yahoo in droves over the years. Yahoo’s constituency is now older, slower to adopt new technology, has less disposable income and is likely to live [and spend] for a shorter time than his or her grandchildren in college.

Is it too late for Yahoo? probably. Is there still hope? Of course there is.

But the appointment Thompson gives me less of it, not more.










{ 1 comment }

rolf January 5, 2012 at 5:33 pm

good post.
2 examples of good products loosing its innovative character are delicious and flickr. both at time of buying leading services and now are somewhat outdated. delicious was sold recently and is now getting traction has still an active loyal community,but no real progress over the last 3 years.people stay because of the data lock in.

another company which could need a visionary leader is microsoft.

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