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Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Dumping Semel, Yang and Yahoo

In case you didn't hear the party horns on Wall Street, word is out that Yahoo's ill-selected, ill-fated and generally ill CEO, Terry Semel, has finally been ousted as Yahoo's CEO. That's the good news. The bad news is that his CEO slot has been filled by Jerry Yang, one of the able founders of Yahoo.

The worse news? None of it matters.

In the immortal words of Pete Townsend, "Meet the new boss, same as the old boss."

Just about everyone has the story wrong on this one. The Los Angeles Times quotes analyst Trip Chowdry of Global Equities Research as saying, "Any person less than 30 has never heard of Jerry Yang...They know the founders of YouTube. They know the founders of Facebook and MySpace." That may be true. But who cares? Nobody any age gives a rat's ass about who creates or manages an online entity -- certainly not Wall Street. Believe me, if a trained monkey sat in the CEO chair at Yahoo and produced Google-like numbers, nobody would care at all. They'd be happy, but they simply wouldn't care.

Jerry Yang, at 38 considered by some to be "over the hill" in internet years, thinks Yahoo's issues are all about absent talent. According to the Los Angeles Times:

Yang said on a conference call with analysts Monday that filling key management jobs would be among his highest priorities. "A company such as Yahoo is all about talent," Yang said. "We have positions we need to fill. We need to convince people that this is a great place to work."

Wrong-o-ritos, Jerry. The old "We Need To Get Talent In Here" is what guided Yahoo's ship on to the rocks back at the turn of the century when someone, somewhere, decided that Yahoo's future lay in entertainment and brought Semel in as its captain. If you want to read what a huge mistake that was, you may be interested in these two articles, which pretty much predict how and why Yahoo would and did find its way into this unholy mess.

Clearly, Yahoo's problems are not about management. They're not rooted in talent. Sure, those are problems that plague the company and contribute to its demise. But Yahoo's real issues begin at the bottom: Like Wal-Mart, Yahoo has an identity but no brand strategy. So it doesn't matter who's at the helm. It doesn't matter what kind of talent you bring:

If people can't articulate why Yahoo is "the only solution to their problem," they have no reason to choose, use and evangelize that brand. And that's the point that Semel, Yang and Wall Street simply don't want to hear.

Word on the street is that Yahoo's current CFO has her CEO training wheels, waiting in the wings to eventually step in to the CEO's chair. Personally, Yahoo is probably better off with Pete Townsend. At least he can see things clearly.

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