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Seven Lessons From Yahoo's Year of Blunders

yahoo_270×76.jpgTime is running out for Jerry Yang. With Google pulling out of the search ad deal, Yahoo is essentially out of options, except for one. Its embattled CEO is now trying to lure Microsoft â€" the suitor he went to great lengths to jilt â€" back to the negotiating table.

But even if Microsoft chief Steve Ballmer is willing to go another round with his fickle and amateurish opponent, he's not likely to offer anywhere near $31 a share, not with Yahoo's stock trading in the low-to-mid teens.

Ever since the board hired a chief Yahoo to do a CEO's job, there have been so many blunders I can hardly keep track of them. But I'll try.

Here are seven lessons every company can learn from Yahoo's mistakes over the past year. If some seem sophomoric, don't blame the messenger. This stuff really happened.

  1. Hire a CEO with experience.What do shrinking profits, flat revenues, and venerable competitors like Google and Microsoft spell? Turnaround. But one week after accepting Terry Semel's resignation, the board hires Yang, a novice who's never even run a company.
  2. Don't breath your own fumes.The now all-too-familiar refrain that Microsoft's bid undervalued Yahoo was based on nothing but a PowerPoint presentation that Yahoo posted on the Web. All fluff, no substance.
  3. To change a company's fortunes, you actually have to change something. Since taking office, Yang did substantially nothing more than reiterate the company's Web portal strategy. Contrast that with Lou Gerstner, who changed IBM's strategy, or Mark Hurd, who changed HP's operations.
  4. Invest in a calculator.When you're offered a 50% premium over the pre-offer price of your stock, do the math, then do the deal. Especially when your shareholders are screaming, "Sell! Sell!"
  5. When everyone's bailing out, you're doing something wrong. When you've lost more than 100 key executives, that should tell you something.
  6. Negotiate, but don't blow your only bailout option. Maybe take a basic negotiating class, too. And don't whine about it to the media after you blow it, either. That was just embarrassing.
  7. Don't let ego get in the way of business. Why did Yang and the board fight so hard to avoid the Microsoft acquisition? Why was the company worth far more than any reasonable analysis indicated? Ego. For that, shareholders lost bigtime.
Overall, I have to say that the past year in the life of Yahoo has been almost surreal. Does it really take fraud or other criminal charges for a CEO to get booted these days? When exactly does a board of directors wake up and admit they screwed up? Where's the accountability?

At a recent Web conference in San Francisco, Yang said he had no regrets about stepping into the CEO role. To me, that sounds like denial. As if the man has no idea how much his and the board's blunders have cost shareholders and employees.

Maybe there's an eighth lesson in there somewhere, but I just can't figure out what it is. What am I missing?