Tuesday, December 12, 2006

What's New at Yahoo!?

A week has passed since the reorg at Yahoo! The reaction has taken two forms: (1) impatience and calls for more dramatic steps including a change at the top and (2) satisfaction that this has set a chain reaction that will ultimately lead to better days ahead.

The mainstream blogs has covered the tension-racked moments of last Tuesday, when many Yahoo!s were emailing TechCrunch with their updates on what was being announced at the reorg, and the feel-good and action-packed holiday party moments of last Saturday night (great pic from Valleywag above). The business press has also chimed in with some suggestions on how to fix what ills Yahoo!.

However, a week later, what's really changed at Yahoo!? Let's summarize:

- There are now 3 main divisions: Audience, Advertisers, and Technology -- or, if you like, Programming, Sales, and Technology supporting both. Is this really all that different from the previous structure? No. The old management bios (still up on Yahoo's website) state that there are 6 execs who are really at a level above the other managers: Terry, the 2 founders, Dan, Susan, and Zod. The new structure was to give new titles to Dan, Susan, and Zod - with the founders continuing to do their thing apart from this. It's obvious that Dan saw this as a step down from COO (which had him above Susan and Zod), and decided to depart. (He'll take $1.4MM with him for 2+ months of work next year.) Now, the search is on for an external person to head Audience. From a day-to-day perspective: new titles, same stuff under each.

- Susan Decker is elevated. It appears this wasn't the original plan. The thought was to make Dan, Susan, and Zod a triumvirate, which would have been very awkward and eventually led to someone leaving later when Terry's successor is announced. Regardless, it is a great opportunity for Susan. Yet, as Henry Blodget said, will she really be empowered to do what she wants to do in this position? Not yet. Should she be? Yes.

- Dan Rosensweig is gone. I don't blame him for leaving and am sure he'll land on his feet somewhere. (Until then, he can hang out with Steve Case, Bob Pittman, Ross Levinsohn, and Jonathan Miller - a growing list of new media execs looking for the next big challenge to restore prominence to their good names.) It's interesting that I've seen no positive comments from current or former Yahoo!s about Dan. The only positive story came from his old Ziff-Davis colleagues at CNET. My concern for Yahoo!: why is he hanging around until March? If someone offered his resignation at my company, and I couldn't convince him otherwise, I'd want him gone immediately. It's best for all concerned for a quick exit. My suggestion for Dan: Go to CNET now. You'll find no better chance to turnaround a company you know as well. That will set you up nicely for your next adventure after that.

- Accountability and Speed of Decision-Making is supposed to be Increased from the change. However, two big problems: (1) there is no head of the Audience group to speed decision-making or hold others accountable and (2) Susan Decker is doing her old job plus her new job until a new CFO is found. It also remains to be seen how the change in structure really changes anything in Technology. It's still organized as it was pre-Dec. 5th.

- Yahoo! is entering a Third Phase. In the media interviews and his blog posting following the announced reorg, Terry described Yahoo! as now being ready to move into its third phase as a company. Phase One was "get big fast," Phase Two was "Focus," and Phase Three is about "Customers." It's a great sound-bite, but what does it really mean? Were they not focused on customers before?

Not much has really changed at Yahoo! with this reorg. In fact, until a new Audience head and CFO are hired and brought up to speed (a process which will take at least 2 months post-hire), decision-making and "through-put" should slow, not quicken.

What does need to happen? At the risk of Jonathan Strauss saying I'm "Monday-morning quarterbacking," here are some further suggestions on top of the ones I've made in previous posts:

- Elevate Decker to President - now. Audience, Advertisers, and Technology should all report in to her. She will have to oversee Audience, at least until the new person is brought on.

- Buy Baidu.com. Want to make a game-changing acquisition that shows that Yahoo! is back and ready to play? Buy Baidu with stock and merge it into Alibaba.com. Google would be back on its heels in the fastest growing market in the world.

- Start paying a Dividend. Remember all the yakkity-yak about Microsoft's refusal to pay a dividend? It's still a rare thing to do in the tech world. That's why it would send a strong signal to Wall Street and other stakeholders that Yahoo! is bullish on its future. It will also immediately give some juice to the stock price.

- Articulate a Vision for Yahoo! Social Media and hire Lloyd Braun's replacement immediately. Obviously, Yahoo! wants to make its mark here. However, that's like saying every network exec wants to find the next Lost, Friends, or Desperate Housewives. No one expects Yahoo! to say which companies they are going to buy or specific products they're going to develop. However, some vision statement about how Yahoo! is going to build on successes in Fantasy Sports, del.icio.us, Flickr, and The Nine (which combines video, personality, current events, and Web in an entirely new way) would be helpful. A vision is not saying "We were really smart to buy del.icio.us and Flickr and they're now very popular today." A vision is saying what you're going to do differently in social media which will cause all your competitors to play catch-up.

- Articulate multi-form Search Vision. Yahoo! rightly should crow about its leadership in banner and "rich media" advertising search and Yahoo! Answers. Don't get caught in a direct comparison shoot-out with Google on general search. Explain and articulate all the facets of search and how you are leading in a number of them. Tell us how search will be a different game two years from now than today. Even if you're wrong, no one ever goes back and checks.

There are a number of other product fixes/upgrades that different people have mentioned in previous posts and, of course, the requisite plea to ship Panama asap. Everyone at Yahoo! understands that stuff already.

As long as Terry's around, let's also hope he drops the scripting points from Corporate PR and gets mad and gets real every chance he gets. Although not perfect, I thought he made some good impressions in his appearances last week. Clearly, the criticism has stuck in his craw. He's thinking legacy and he wants to go out on a high, not a low (who can blame him?). He's going to fight to preserve his legacy and that's probably a good thing for all concerned. But it's going to take more than a press release reorg. It's going to take real action and change. You don't build or rebuild a culture overnight.

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Anonymous said...

I am an ex-Yahoo and my opinion of Dan Rosensweig is not a good one. Remember: He has been the COO of the company for 4.5 years making many of the strategic decisions that have lead to the breakdown of the organization. He also contibuted greatly to the bureaucrazy by hiring cronies and putting them into high paying positions that did not contribute a penny to the topline (or the bottom!). He has ALWAYS been focused too much on the minutia and not enough on the big picture. Terry is far too removed from the day to day to make a significant impact so this current disaster is the result of Dan's efforts (or lack thereof - read on). He has also gotten downright lazy in the last few years - resting and vesting as the old saying goes - and making a lot of money off his options. In fact, his reputation at Yahoo has been that he is there for no other reason but the money. As a shareholder I am glad to see him leaving and pissed that it is costing the company so much to get rid of him.

Eric Jackson said...

Thx, Anon. As I said,it was curious how few positive words were said by yahoos in the wake of Dan's decision to leave.