Musical chairs at Yahoo

Marissa Mayer, Chief Executive Officer of Yahoo!, poses during the 43rd Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum, WEF, in Davos, Switzerland, Friday, Jan. 25, 2013. (AP Photo/Keystone/Laurent Gillieron)
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(MoneyWatch) COMMENTARY Yahoo's (YHOO) latest CEO, Scott Thompson, has lost his new job because his resume didn't quite manage to be entirely truthful. What's so extraordinary about this story is that Thompson felt he needed to inflate his academic credentials. Isn't being president of PayPal enough? Why on Earth did he imagine he needed to claim computer credentials for this spot? Did he seriously imagine he'd be hanging out with coders all through the night?

That he felt compelled to make such a stupid mistake says more about him than the mistake itself. It suggests he didn't understand the job he applied for - and that he somehow imagined technical skill was more important than integrity, straight shooting and humility. In other words, he knew nothing about leadership at all.

Yahoo CEO steps down after resume flap
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Everyone has weaknesses, gaps in their resume which they might prefer filled with something dazzling. I've run software and I don't have an engineering degree. I can't write code. It never occurred to me that that would make a difference or that pretending to have technical expertise would somehow help me.

So why do people make mistakes like this? Almost invariably because, for some reason, they believe that who and what they are on paper isn't good enough. And because they believe that what is on paper will prove decisive. To my mind, this is why they should be fired: Not just because they lied, but because their appreciation of where excellence comes from is so hideously stupid. At C-level, no one was ever hired because of their educational qualifications. What they've done, where and for whom is what counts. Anyone who thinks their academic education alone determines their qualification for leadership doesn't have the faintest idea what leadership is.

Ross Levinsohn, the new Yahoo CEO, comes into his new position with no worries about his resume. He's been in the Internet game a long time - I knew him when he was responsible for content on Alta Vista (remember Alta Vista?) - and he was an all-round good guy then. Whether he has the stomach, backing or nerve to turn Yahoo into something anyone wants is another story. But at least with Levinsohn, you'll know what you're getting.

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    Margaret Heffernan has been CEO of five businesses in the United States and United Kingdom. A speaker and writer, her most recent book Willful Blindness was shortlisted for the Financial Times Best Business Book 2011. Visit her on