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For a long time, I’ve used Jerry Yang and David Filo as the models of smart Internet founders. What impressed me so much about these guys is that they had the confidence to push forward with their idea, despite the many naysayers who said it couldn’t be done. But more importantly, they also had the smarts to know when to let go of the reins. Once Yahoo started to become a “real” company, they took a backseat and let seasoned business leaders take charge
This is really a pretty amazing transition – many entrepreneurs don’t know how to switch from pig-headed visionary to laid-back team player – but Yang and Filo did it and did it well. In many ways, they were the model entrepreneurs that taught Sergei Brin and Larry Page their playbook on going from start-up to mega-corporation.
But now comes the news that Terry Semel is stepping down (or being fired, or both, it doesn’t matter) and Jerry Yang is assuming the position of CEO. Additionally, Susan Decker, the former CFO famous for her quote that Yahoo was essentially battling for second place in search, is now President.
I definitely have some mixed feelings on this move. On the one hand, I think it was long past time for Terry Semel to move on. No doubt he did some great things for Yahoo – in particular the acquisition of Overture, HotJobs, Flickr, and Del.icio.us. But he also presided over Yahoo gradual slide from #1 search engine to #1 outsider looking in. And, throughout it all, collected a lot of money – over $200 million in one year alone.
I do think that Yahoo’s social media strategy will pay dividends in the long-run, but there’s no future if there’s no today, and Yahoo had consistently underwhelmed shareholders, search marketers, and employees. It’s time for a change.
But Jerry Yang as the new head-honcho? This one makes me a little nervous. No doubt Jerry Yang is an incredibly smart guy, he knows Yahoo better than anyone, and he’s a lot more seasoned than he was in the mid-90s when he gave up the reigns to someone else. If nothing else, I’m sure his presence at the top will encourage many smart geeks in the Valley who might have otherwise gone to Google to give Yahoo a second look.
At the same time, however, the guy is 38 years old, he’s only worked at one company – ever, and he has been a senior executive at Yahoo during their losing battle to Google over the last six years. If Yahoo needs some new blood to shake the moss off the log, having the founder return as CEO doesn’t seem to be the right solution.
I would think that there would be plenty of seasoned candidates – perhaps even senior people at Google – who would love the opportunity to come in and take over Yahoo. After all, the stock is pretty low, the expectations are low, and there is a lot of potential going forward (social media, the numerous big companies that want to partner with anyone but Google, the continued strength of online advertising).
Bringing Jerry Yang back seems a bit like the Politburo in the USSR in the 1970s – once the Premier died, they just elected another equally old, equally stodgy replacement who had an equally ineffective and short career at the helm.
I’m hoping I’m wrong here. More competition in the search space is good for everyone. I’d love to see the re-emergence of Yahoo as a major player and innovator. It seems hard to fathom, however, that Jerry Yang is the man to lead Yahoo to the promised land.