Jerry Yang's One Year at Yahoo

Yahoo may not be in a celebratory mood, but if it feels like pulling out a cake and cupcakes, today would be a good day for it: Jerry Yang's one-year anniversary as Yahoo's CEO.

But after a year like this one, cakes and cupcakes have given way to shareholder lawsuits, a proxy war with Carl Icahn, a dubious search partnership with Google that could attract the attention of the U.S. Justice Department anti-trust investigators, and, um, oh yeah, the botched, $47 billion bid from Microsoft in what Silicon Valley's hometown newspaper, the San Jose Mercury News derided as "one of the most blatant dismissals of shareholder interests in corporate history."


A year ago today, Yang posted a blog with lofty goals about where the company was headed, and what his priorities are. He neglected to spell out that his own job preservation was a top priority that could even eclipse his fiduciary responsibility to his shareholders. But I digress.

His honeymoon period opened with enormous promise, even though there were whispers that the prodigal co-founder of one of the net's best known global properties, didn't have the chops to reverse Yahoo's stagnation. "I have absolute conviction about Yahoo's potential for long-term success as an internet leader," he wrote. "Yahoo is a company that started with a vision and a dream and, make no mistake, that dream is very much alive." He also made a reference to rallying Yahoo's 12,000 workers around the world.

He would later promise a turnaround strategy and new direction for the company after his first 100 days as CEO. Some questioned then that for a guy who claimed to have intimate knowledge already of Yahoo's day-to-day machinations, why he would need more than three months to come up with a plan.

Well, here it is 365 days later, and there is no turnaround strategy, there is no plan, there's only been pie-in-the-sky financial projections that few on the Street truly believe, a partnership strategy that essentially cedes the search advertising market to Google, and a stock that's done absolutely nothing. At $26 the day he took over. At $23 or so today. Oh, but it did spike to almost $34 on that Microsoft news, but that was so last month. Still, the worst part is, there seems to have been no board pressure during the year to improve Yang's performance.

And a complicit board with the CEO, at a time when Yahoo craves dramatic and fundamental changes, is a dangerous combination for those holding shares in this company. So now, the speculation game begins. Yahoo holds its annual shareholder meeting on August 3, it will be a raucous affair, and the thinking is Jerry Yang could be out of a job between now and then, or soon thereafter. And that would cap a year in Yahoo's history most shareholders would just assume forget.

Could Sue Decker replace him? Many thought she should have gotten the job in the first place when Terry Semel was shown the door. Either way, outsider or insider, Yahoo's volatility isn't going away any time soon. And it's all because of leadership. Or lack thereof.

Happy Anniversary, Jerry Yang. Should be interesting to see who celebrates their first year anniversary a year from now as Yahoo's next CEO.

Questions? Comments?