Meet Yahoo’s Interim Chief, Ross Levinsohn
Yahoo‘s revolving door of chief executives has turned again.
Scott Thompson, the chief executive of just four months, will leave as a result of a growing controversy over his embellished academic record, according to people briefed on the matter. He will be succeeded — at least for now — by Ross B. Levinsohn, the company’s head of global media.
So who is the new chief?
Mr. Levinsohn, who is most likely auditioning to keep the role on a permanent basis, has been with Yahoo since late 2010, when the chief executive at that time, Carol Bartz, brought him in to lead its Americas operations. He is now the company’s global head of media, overseeing Yahoo’s core multibillion dollar advertising business.
According to his corporate biography, Mr. Levinsohn is “responsible for all aspects of the company’s digital media business, including the vision, strategy, product, partnerships, engineering and content creation.”
When Mr. Thompson was announced as Yahoo’s next chief in January, he came as a surprise to many in the industry. As the former president of PayPal, he understood the online payment sector but had no experience in the media and advertising industries.
By contrast, Mr. Levinsohn understands those areas well. Before joining Yahoo, he was president of News Corporation’s Fox Interactive Media, where he was in charge of strategy and deals.
His most notable accomplishment was News Corporation’s $580 million takeover of MySpace, which at the time was one of the fastest-growing Web properties around.
But shortly after the deal, MySpace began ceding market share to an even younger upstart, Facebook. Last year, News Corporation sold the much-withered MySpace to an advertising network, Specific Media, for about $35 million.
Before joining News Corporation, Mr. Levinsohn held senior positions at the early search engine AltaVista, CBS Sportsline and HBO, according to his profile on Yahoo’s Web site. He was also co-founder and former managing director of Fuse Capital, an investment firm focused on media companies.
“Ross has a phenomenal track record of executing digital media strategies that increase user engagement and, most importantly, accelerate topline growth,” Ms. Bartz, the former Yahoo chief, said in October 2010.
With his connections to Madison Avenue, Mr. Levinsohn is expected to focus on increasing Yahoo’s media business and improving its relationships with advertisers. That will probably help appease Daniel S. Loeb, the activist hedge fund manager who first revealed the error in Mr. Thompson’s academic profile.
While Mr. Loeb has pushed Yahoo’s board to refocus on its core media and advertising operations, Mr. Thompson had expressed an interest in creating a new commerce business, according to people close to the company — a move Mr. Levinsohn is unlikely to pursue.
Mr. Levinsohn’s deal-making experience could be useful to Yahoo as it muddles toward another strategic shift. The company is close to a deal to sell some of its stake in the Alibaba Group of China back to that company, a transaction that could be completed within weeks. That sale would give Yahoo billions of dollars in proceeds to spend on acquisitions.
Yet there is one thing Yahoo’s departing and incoming chief executives share: neither has a degree in computer science. Mr. Levinsohn has a degree in communications from American University.