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Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Former Autodesk CEO Carol Bartz to Replace Jerry Yang as Yahoo CEO: Reports

As posted by: Google News

Former Autodesk CEO Carol Bartz has agreed to become the next chief executive of Yahoo, a job many might consider thankless and others one of the greatest turnaround opportunities of the internet age.

Bartz's selection would end a two-month search to replace Jerry Yang, who served as CEO for about a year -- arguably one of its worst ever of the post-bubble era.

The Wall Street Journal was apparently first with the speculative report, citing "people familiar with the situation." Bloomberg, Silicon Alley Insider and others are also quoting their own unnamed sources of the decision, which has not been announced. We asked: no comment from Yahoo.

Bartz is currently executive chairman of Autodesk Software and has been an executive at Sun Microsystems. She sits on the board of Cisco (with Yang), and on the Intel board with Yahoo president Sue Decker, who was another aspirant for the top job.

Bartz's name began circulating widely last week after weeks of tantilizing rumors -- mainly from Silicon Alley Insider and AllThingsD -- that the announcement of a Yang successor was immiment.

If true, the Valley parlor game is over, won by a solid, if not terribly-well-known, tech executive. According to her official bio at Autodesk, which she joined in 1992 and left in 2006 -- the company grew revenues from $285 million to $1.523 billion. She holds an honors degree in computer science from the University of Wisconsin, giving her some geek cred.

Bartz was also on President Bush's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology. In 2005 she was named one of the "50 Most Powerful Women in Business" by Fortune; "50 Women to Watch" by the Wall Street Journal; "The World’s 30 Most Respected CEOs" by Barron's and "World’s 100 Most Powerful Women by Forbes.

Pedigrees and resumes and honors are all very well and good. But former colleagues describe her as tenacious, dedicated and tireless, which are three qualities that anyone who wants to tackel Yahoo must possess. When Silicon Alley Insider asked for come feedback from the crowd about her, this was one of the responses:

On her first day at Autodesk, she was diagnosed with cancer. She took 30 days off for aggressive treatment and, as promised, returned to work a month later. She was still very sick and feeling the effects of continuing chemotherapy. She would arrive early and puke in the parking lot, then go to work.

That might be the way she spends her first few weeks at Yahoo which has, to put it mildly, seen better days.

Yang announced two months ago that he would be stepping down after a dismal tenure in the corner office he first occupied in Oct. 2007. While not a businessman by training or inclination Yang's ascension brought with it some hope that the passion of a co-founder could somehow help re-ignite the fire that had once powered Yahoo as one of the pre-eminent internet innovators. Instead, the company which basically invented internet search lost the war to an upstart called Google, some say forever.

Still, the "Chief Yahoo!" stepped up at what was then thought to be a significant turning point for Yahoo, after the doldrums that were the tenure of Terry Semel and his ill-fated strategic foray into content creation.

Yang's leadership was not particularly inspired but the wheels really came off in 2008. He orchestrated a forceful rejection of an unsolicited offer by Microsoft to take over the company at $33 or so a share, asserting that this was not a sufficient premium on an enterprise then valued at about $19, only to see the company's value plummet to the low teens.

As the year came to an end Yang was reduced to begging Microsoft for a new offer that was not to materialize. In between he was forced to bring onto the board three interlopers, including his most vocal critic -- Carl Icahn, who urged his ouster early and often and in no uncertain terms.

The consolation prize that would have been an advertising deal with Google -- not a strategic partnership, but a means of generating some new cash flow -- also fizzled when the Department of Justice made clear it would litigiate to prevent even that level of partnership as anti-competitive, and Google walked away.

Yang himself may have lacked the skills to bring the ship of state but he does have the eternal optimism that is a necessary if not sufficent quality. Days before he announced his decision to step down, he told a technical conference in London that these could still be the best of times.

Despite market volatility and a crisis of confidence that seems to have literally frozen portions of the economy, Yang said, this "a great time for opportunity."

"In many ways, the darkest days bore Yahoo and Google," Yang said. "Somewhere out there, there is a great company being built."

It will take more than luck, but there is still a chance that company can be Yahoo, again. We wish Ms. Bartz -- should she in fact accept the post -- all the best.