Can Jerry Yang Save Yahoo?

Last Updated Aug 20, 2007 6:31 PM EDT

Jerry Yang with Other YahoosYahoo went from Terry to Jerry, and some say we shouldn't expect any watershed change in performance as a result. Leading up to Yahoo's passionate shareholder meeting a couple weeks ago, a strong contingent of voices were calling for Terry Semel's exit from the chief post. But less than a week after shareholders voted Semel on, he resigned from the top spot to take the role of non-executive chairman. Now co-founder Jerry Yang is back at the helm and long-time Yahoo executive Susan Decker is the president in charge of the Peanut Butter Conundrum -- a teasing name for Yahoo's myriad thinly-spread online properties. One of the strongest voices in the shareholder meeting was activist investor Eric Jackson, who said to Semel: "I am surprised you did not apologize to Yahoo shareholders for the last three years of performance." And while some see Yang as more of the same, or as nothing more than an interim chief until the right candidate is found, Jackson firmly believes that Yang is the right leader for Yahoo. And here's why, from Jackson's Yahoo-only blog, Breakout Performance:
  1. Nobody knows the business as well as he and Filo do. These two guys are the corporate DNA. When you walk into the lobby at Yahoo, you are inundated with an internally focused marketing/morale-boosting campaign called "We Were; We Are," complete with black-and-white shots of the early days at the Stanford computer lab, contrasted with colorful modern images of Yang and Filo. They have continued to be intimately involved in the business and know where it needs to go.
  2. He's already off to a fast start. For a guy who some say was reluctant to take the job, he appeared remarkably energetic in Monday's analyst call announcing the changes. His instincts and alacrity will serve him well.
  3. He knows how to do deals. Yang architected the very significant partnership with SBC (now AT&T) in early 2001. More recently, in 2005, he did the deal with Alibaba.com. Critics have pointed to Broadcast.com and GeoCities as examples of expensive acquisitions he was involved in that didn't pan out. This was a different time, however, when Yahoo had a different market cap itself. His instincts were correct (on video and social networking, way before they were seen as "growth" areas). He won't be shy to do deals in the months ahead, which the company will benefit from.
  4. He's got the mental strength. It would not have been easy for Yang to go through the last few days leading up to Monday's announcement. Semel is a friend. Yang wanted it to work. But he was obviously ready to take on this responsibility.
  5. It's his time. None of us has experience until we get experience. Yang hasn't run a 12,000-person company, but he's worked there every day of his professional life. He's 38, not 25. And heâ€"like Filoâ€"loves this company more than anyone else. More important, though, the two co-founders feel a responsibility for the company. It's a critical time and Yang's ready. My sense from watching Yang at the meeting and since then (and the same goes for Filo) is that the flip has switched. These guys are all-in, in a way they haven't been before.
  6. Sue Decker's there to help. As a leader, you rely on those around you to help you in areas where you are weaker. Yang's lucky to have someone as capable as Decker working closely with him.
In the six points above, the strongest two are most likely Yang's intimate familiarity with Yahoo and Web technology, and his passion for the company. At at time like this, when Yahoo is so far behind Google, a strong will to win forms the rudiment of success.

(Image of Jerry Yang Surrounded with Yahoos by Silvio Tanaka, CC 2.0)