Yahoo taps Bartz as CEO, Decker walks

Yahoo has chosen former Autodesk CEO Carol Bartz as its next CEO to replace Jerry Yang

Yahoo said on Tuesday it has chosen former Autodesk CEO Carol Bartz as its next CEO to replace Jerry Yang, who announced his intention to step down in November.

The company also announced that President Sue Decker, who had been a candidate for the CEO position, has resigned and will leave the company after a transitional period. Decker worked at Yahoo for eight-and-a-half years and was a close supporter of Yang.

In a statement, Yahoo Chairman Roy Bostock said Bartz has the right mix of technology and business savvy to lead Yahoo, as well as a strong leadership style and a proven track record of driving growth, shareholder value and operational excellence.

"She is admired in the Valley as well as on Wall Street for her deep management expertise, strong customer orientation, excellent people skills, and firm understanding of the challenges facing our industry," Bostock said.

In the same statement, Bartz praised Yahoo for its assets, technology, staff and accomplishments. "There is no denying that Yahoo has faced enormous challenges over the last year, but I believe there is now an extraordinary opportunity to create value for our shareholders and new possibilities for our customers, partners and employees. We will seize that opportunity," she said.

Yang also praised Bartz, calling her "the ideal person" to drive Yahoo forward. "I believe Yahoo's best years are still ahead of it," he said in the statement.

Gartner analyst Allen Weiner called Bartz "a very solid pick" who should be an "easy sell" to investors, partners, employees and advertising customers. "She can bring the adult supervision the company has lacked," Weiner said.

He downplayed Bartz's lack of experience in the Web 2.0 world, saying plenty of people at Yahoo have that type of knowledge. Bartz brings a steady hand that will give Yahoo operational direction and strategic focus, just as Eric Schmidt has done at Google, Weiner said.

"She's the person who can come in and put the peanut butter back in the jar," he said, referring to a controversial memo a Yahoo executive penned in late 2006, in which he likened Yahoo's lack of focus to a spread of peanut butter: amorphous and shallow.

Industry analyst Greg Sterling from Sterling Market Intelligence said his initial reaction to Bartz is "cautious." Bartz seems like a solid, competitive manager and a safe choice for Yahoo, which could have gone for a flashier pick from the Web 2.0 ranks.

The question is whether she can lead Yahoo out of its yearslong crisis, given her lack of experience with the Internet and online advertising markets, Sterling said.

Neither analyst believes Bartz was brought in to broker a sale of Yahoo, nor do they expect her to implement major changes in technology strategy.

Bartz will take up her new job immediately. She also gets a seat on the Yahoo board.

Bartz was Autodesk's executive board chairman. She previously served as its chairman, president and CEO for 14 years, stepping down in April 2006.

While at the helm, Autodesk diversified its product line and saw its revenue rise from US$285 million to $1.5 billion, according to Autodesk's corporate Web site.

Before joining Autodesk, Bartz worked at Sun Microsystems, where she was vice president of worldwide field operations and an executive officer, and at Digital and 3M.

President George Bush appointed her to his Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, and she is on the boards of Intel, Cisco Systems, NetApp, and the Foundation for the National Medals of Science and Technology.

Her awards include being named as one of the 50 most powerful women in business by Fortune Magazine in 2005 and one of the world's 30 most respected CEOs by Barron's in 2005.

Bartz, who according to the Journal is 60 years old, will have her hands full as Yahoo CEO. The company has been in a technology and financial slump for several years. Multiple corporate shake-ups and reorganizations have failed to trigger a turnaround.

Yahoo has lagged behind large rivals like Google and small startups, unable to capitalize as much as it should have on many of the hottest Internet opportunities of recent years, like online video, search advertising, social networking and blogging.

There was much hope among industry observers when Yang, a Yahoo cofounder, took over as CEO from Terry Semel in mid-2007, but he failed to deliver on his goals to make Yahoo the preferred starting point for users, the preferred marketing vehicle for online advertisers and the preferred Web application platform for external developers.

His tenure included an unsolicited acquisition attempt by Microsoft, whose failure critics blamed on Yang and the Yahoo board. Later, a deal to let Yahoo run Google search ads collapsed after it became clear the U.S. government planned to challenge it due to antitrust concerns. The deal would have given Yahoo's revenue a significant boost.

Yang's tenure as CEO also featured two big rounds of layoffs, an embarrassing exodus of high-profile managers, disappointing financial results, a tanking stock price, free-falling employee morale and little or no advances in key areas, like search usage and search advertising.

He also oversaw the launch of several ambitious technology projects designed to improve Yahoo's services for end-users, developers, publishers and advertisers. Some have been delivered and others are in progress, like Yahoo Open Strategy (YOS), a project to rearchitect the company's sites and services to tap into the popularity of social networking.

With YOS, Yahoo pledges to open all its sites, online services and Web applications to outside developers, and give users a "social profile" dashboard to unify and manage their Yahoo services.

Yang plans to remain on the Yahoo board and retain his Chief Yahoo title.

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