Yahoo sweeps out CEO tainted by inaccurate bio

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Thompson’s rapid downfall leaves Yahoo in turmoil amid a reorganization that had only just begun. Last month, Thompson laid off 2,000 employees, or 14 percent of the workforce, in the biggest payroll purge in the company’s history, and had started to identify about 50 services that he wanted to close or sell.

Now it falls to Levinsohn, whom Thompson had promoted to a more prominent role last week, to get Yahoo back on track. He joined Yahoo 18 months ago when the company was still being run by Carol Bartz, who was fired in September. Before coming to Yahoo, Levinsohn had won fans running Fox Interactive, the Internet arm of Rupert Murdoch’s media empire at News Corp.

“This may seem like a great deal of news to digest, but as you are all keenly aware, Yahoo is a dynamic, global company in a dynamic, global industry, so change _ sometimes unexpected and sometimes at lightning speed _ is something we will continue to live with and something we should embrace,” Levinsohn wrote to Yahoo employees Sunday in a memo provided to The Associated Press.

Stifel Nicolaus analyst Jordan Rohan thinks Levinsohn’s media background may make him better qualified to be Yahoo’s CEO than Thompson, whose experience is rooted in electronic commerce.

Ross Levinsohn is common-sense executive, a pragmatic operator who people love to work for,” Rohan said. “He is the right guy for this job.”

Carlos Kirjner, a senior analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein also suggested Thompson’s experience running PayPal’s rapidly expanding service made him a bad fit at Yahoo.

“It is very different to be CEO of a growth company, making choices between opportunities, and to be CEO of a company in turnaround mode, whose parts are declining or losing share,” Kirjner said.

Thompson’s inaccurate resume might have been more forgivable at a company that was posting big returns for its shareholders, said James Post, a management professor at Boston University. But it’s likely that Third Point was looking for an excuse to get rid of Thompson, Post said.

But Yahoo’s stock has been sagging since it squandered an opportunity to sell itself to Microsoft Corp. in May 2008 for $33 per share, or $47.5 billion. Yahoo’s stock hasn’t traded above $20 since September 2008. The shares ended last week at $15.19.

Yahoo has been embattled for such a long time that there are a lot of people prepared to believe the worst about that company,” said Post, who specializes in corporate governance and professional ethics. . “When you’re angry at the management and the board, when nothing’s going right and you’re losing money, it’s understandable that shareholders would adopt an `off with their head’ attitude.”

Brian Wieser, a senior analyst at Pivotal Research, said he believes Thompson’s ouster will be a positive move, removing an overhanging distraction and adding board members with new perspectives. Wieser said employees he’d talked to believed Thompson was showing a lack of appreciation for some of Yahoo’s business units, and that morale had degenerated even more during his tenure. “It was bad,” Wieser said, “and went to worse.”

Wieser said that Third Point is “exactly the kind of investor every company should want,” since the hedge fund is apparently trying to heal Yahoo, not break it up. “There are no barbarians at the gate here,” Wieser said. “They’re actually trying to help.”

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Liedtke reported from San Francisco.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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