Thursday, December 07, 2006

Industry Insiders Praise Yahoo Choice for Key Post

Interesting commentary from today's NY Times:

SAN FRANCISCO, Dec. 6 — Shortly after Susan L. Decker was appointed chief financial officer of Yahoo in mid-2000, the bottom fell out of the Internet business. Within a year, Yahoo’s shares lost more than 90 percent of their value, as scores of Yahoo’s dot-com advertisers went bust.

Throughout that challenging period, Ms. Decker played a leading role in helping reset expectations on Wall Street and inside the company. She was also instrumental in helping recruit a management team that put the company on a path to renewed growth.

Those accomplishments earned her a healthy dose of credibility and loyalty, according to people inside and outside Yahoo.

“The last time they went through a challenging period, she was very effective at helping rebuild the team,” said Mary Meeker, an analyst with Morgan Stanley. “She was very aggressive internally about forcing the company and the employees to be realistic about the business and she was extraordinarily candid.”

Now, as Yahoo faces challenging times again, Ms. Decker’s credibility is being rewarded and tested.

On Tuesday, in an attempt to compete better with faster-moving rivals, the company announced a restructuring of its operations into three business units. As part of the reshuffling, Terry S. Semel, the company’s chairman and chief executive, tapped Ms. Decker to run the unit that arguably faces the biggest challenge: reducing Google’s lead in Internet advertising.

Some analysts say the appointment of Ms. Decker to head the advertiser and publisher group may indicate that she is being groomed to succeed Mr. Semel as chief executive.

The company declined to comment or to make Ms. Decker or other executives available for this article.

Those who know Ms. Decker, 44, say that despite her lack of extensive operational experience, she has the skills to do the job.

“It would be difficult to find a job for which she is not intellectually capable,” said Geoff Ralston, Yahoo’s former chief product officer, who left the company in April. “That doesn’t mean there aren’t a lot of challenges for her. But she is one of the clearest- thinking minds at Yahoo.”

Rob Solomon, a former senior vice president at Yahoo who is now chief executive of SideStep, a travel-oriented search business, added: “I was always in awe of her brilliancy. Any time I interacted with her, she didn’t need much explanation. She understood things quickly, and then she would start tearing through the numbers and seeing where the opportunities and the risks were.”

Indeed, whenever the subject of Ms. Decker came up in interviews with nearly a dozen former colleagues, analysts and other people who know her, Ms. Decker’s keen intellect was the first thing cited.

“She is truly one of the smartest executives I ever worked with,” said Jana Rich, a managing director at Russell Reynolds, an executive search firm with Yahoo as a client.

Ms. Rich also credited Ms. Decker with strong personal and leadership skills. As Ms. Rich searched for the right candidates to present to Yahoo, Ms. Decker was always hands-on, helping her understand not only the qualities needed in a person but also working through detailed analyses of companies to find which ones were facing challenges similar to Yahoo’s — and hence might have candidates with suitable skills.

Ms. Rich now credits Ms. Decker’s approach with teaching her critical lessons about leadership. “Involve your key people strategically, set a high bar and work with them to solve the problem,” Ms. Rich said.

Mr. Solomon said, and others confirmed, that Ms. Decker once rode to an all-staff meeting on a Harley-Davidson motorcycle.

“She is pretty cool and very affable,” he said. “For her to ride into this all-hands corporate meeting on a Harley says that she is a very different type of C.F.O.”

Ms. Decker joined Yahoo from Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette, where she worked for 14 years, first as a publishing and advertising research analyst and eventually rising to become head of global research.

Since joining Yahoo, her successes have been noticed throughout Silicon Valley. In 2004, Ms. Decker was appointed to the board of Pixar Animation Studios, and last month, she joined the board of Intel, whose chairman, Craig R. Barrett, referred in a statement to her “extensive business background, leadership and understanding of the technology industry.”

Ms. Decker also serves on the board of Costco Wholesale.

In recent months, she was put in charge of Yahoo’s marketplaces business unit, where she recruited Hilary Schneider, a former newspaper industry executive with Knight Ridder. The two helped broker a landmark deal to share content, advertising and technology with a consortium of publishing companies representing more than 175 daily papers.

Ms. Decker’s success may ultimately hinge on her ability to broker more such deals and improve the company’s ability to turn its existing audience, the largest on the Internet, into more advertising dollars.

“I don’t think she gets credited enough with how good she is at understanding businesses,” said Ellen Siminoff, the chief executive of Efficient Frontier, an Internet marketing firm, and a former senior vice president at Yahoo. “She will have to go to her top advertisers and publishers and understand what it is going to take to get more dollars.”

Ms. Siminoff said that her success in cashing in on Yahoo’s audience will depend, at least initially, on things that may already be outside Ms. Decker’s control. Project Panama, an overhaul of Yahoo’s advertising system, whose delays have been a symbol of the company’s troubles, is already being rolled out, Ms. Siminoff noted. “The train has left the station,” she said.

It is not clear whether Yahoo’s shake-up will be enough to turn around the business. On Wednesday, its shares dropped 57 cents in regular trading, to $26.86, or more than 2 percent.

Part of Yahoo’s challenge in catching up with Google is technological. Yet despite Ms. Decker’s lack of technology background, associates say she is up to the job.

“What I was really impressed with Sue over the years is that she moved from a very nuts-and-bolts approach to management to a much more strategic perspective,” Mr. Ralston said. “She really shifted over time. I’m sure that in the end is why Terry gave her this job.”

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Anonymous said...

What a pathetic, one-sided blog.