Over the weekend, it became clear that Carol Bartz really wanted the Yahoo! CEO job, and that the board was willing to give it to her. Today, the appointment became official.
Carol Bartz is the no-bullshit, down-to-earth, highly successful former CEO of Autodesk. Her story in Silicon Valley is a lesson in career management: boards of Intel, Cisco, Cadence, etc. I’ve met her, and found her to be simple, direct, unencumbered by ego or need for adulation. We invited her to a fireside chat once at the MIT Club of Northern California’s Leadership Development program. She candidly shared many intimate details of her journey, including her battle with breast cancer soon after being named to the Autodesk CEO job. In a nutshell, I respect her greatly.
Carol is unlike Carly Fiorina of HP, who was constantly after gratuitous PR, lacked substance and eventually departed as a failure. She is also unlike Meg Whitman of eBay who was at the right place at the right time, and did not have to do a lot of heavy-lifting.
Carol has done excellent heavy-lifting with the turnaround of Autodesk in the past.
And very importantly, she has also mentored a great successor at Autodesk in Carl Bass, who ably shepherds the company today.
Finally, Yahoo! is a political nightmare. Someone needs to untangle this mess and create an organization structure that is remotely functional. I know at least one very credible candidate who was asked to be on the shortlist of Yahoo!’s CEO prospects who declined for this reason alone: It is impossible to get anything done there. Carol may be able to do this.
All these points lead us to take a careful look at Carol’s selection in the positive light.
So what is the negative?
For me, what remains intriguing is why someone of Carol’s stature would want to do this job now! When she left Autodesk, Carol indicated that she was done with CEO jobs. Now, she wants to take on a job that is going to become more than a full-time affair.
Yahoo! went through the latter half of Terry Semel’s tenure with a half-engaged CEO. I don’t think the company can afford another of those. I sure hope Carol is not planning that kind of a stint, and from what I know of her, I don’t think that’s her work ethic. But the question does nag at me, and I will put it out here.
The second issue is that of domain knowledge in the Internet business. While this is a major issue for many, it’s probably not a show-stopper. I have switched domains many times, and don’t think it is an issue. One of Carol’s strength’s is that she can listen to a lot of people’s ideas, and synthesize all that into something that can become a strategy. [In fact, I would really like to give her a core dump of my thoughts of Yahoo’s! turnaround strategy.]
The real issue, however, is that of instinct. There will be a lot of divergent ideas offered to her on the right strategy forward for Yahoo!. Does she have the instinct to pick a viable one? I’m not sure. I haven’t had any conversation with her about where her head is about the Internet business.
Finally, let’s say it takes at least a year for Carol to sort through the organizational issues, the board dysfunctions, etc. Can she simultaneously execute on the business deliverables? Or, is her job that of a two-year CEO who would clean up the organization, and build a strong executive team, groom a successor, and then hand over the reigns within a relatively short span?
I don’t know the answers to any of these questions. But I think they’re the right questions to ask.