2009: New Yahoo! CEO Carol Bartz: Give “Some Friggin’ Breathin’ Room” So We “Can Kick Some Butt”

When former Autodesk CEO Carol Bartz took over as CEO of Yahoo! in January 2009, most tech media pundits were wondering if she was right for the job. Those of us who follow design technology had a better understanding. Originally published in CADCAMNET January 15, 2009.

By Randall S. Newton

Carol Bartz, posing for the first time as Yahoo! CEO, January 2009

The ink was still wet on  Carol Bartz’s employment agreement by the time a thousand media pundits, bloggers and Twitter users weighed in on the fitness of naming the former Autodesk CEO as the next Yahoo! CEO.

“IMHO Bartz is the worst choice for Yahoo!” tweeted one MCAD VAR who haunts Twitter. “She has a very corporate mindset while Yahoo! needs vision, tech leadership.” (You have to never mind the niceties of grammar on Twitter, which limits each tweet/message to 140 characters.) “She knows nothing about advertising. Dumb hire.” said another.

The initial response from the Silicon Valley media elite wasn’t any nicer. “More likely she will basically dress up Yahoo! for a sale…” summed up TechCrunch founder Michael Arrington.

Wall Street saw things differently. Executive recruiter Neil Sims told Reuters, “The selection of Bartz is a declarative statement for Yahoo!, that ‘we are not for sale’. She doesn’t have the M&A dealmaker profile you’d expect Yahoo! to select if (selling) was their overt intention.”

Her Turn
Finally (in Internet time) Bartz had her say. In a conference call with analysts yesterday, Bartz laid out the new agenda: “This is a big complex company. The people here need a chance to inform me. More than anything, let’s give this company some friggin’ breathing room.”

Other tidbits from the new Czarina of Silicon Valley:

The “media versus technology” debate: “Is a lot of nonsense. … This is a company with enormous assets. It just needs a little management. … I suspect I have a little brain power available to understand media.”

What’s ahead: “We need to really get outward looking and kick some butt. … This is not about some little vision I have, but about big vision for a big, great company.”

My Turn
Let me be pundit #1001. At the risk of alienating a few of my esteemed colleagues, I think Yahoo! made a great choice. Bartz is decisive, insightful, and straight talking. None of those attributes have been ever been evident in a Yahoo! CEO. Best of all for Yahoo!, she doesn’t suffer fools lightly. In the early days of her tenure as Autodesk CEO, company co-founder John Walker came calling with a list of ideas and got huffy when she didn’t seem interested. Bartz lost no time in literally throwing him out of the room.

Her observation that the ‘media versus technology’ debate is “nonsense” is right on the money. Google is the online ad king, and it considers itself a pure technology company. Any successful Internet content site today has to consider itself a technology company to survive. (Note to self: Time to eat the rhetorical dog food.) Yahoo! has some great technology already, and they keep signing up major partners like Samsung, T-Mobile and Virgin Mobile in the hot mobile environment. There are plenty of opportunities for the company if it can just stop navel-gazing, plug its ears to the outside world, and get back to work.

Some in the engineering software community have reminded me that Bartz “raided the treasury” at Autodesk, racking up more than $20 million in stock options. All I know is there was a board of directors at Autodesk choosing to reward her then, and there’s a board of directors at Yahoo! to reward her as they see fit now. There never was a shareholder revolt at Autodesk, and if Bartz succeeds in breathing new life into the old Yahoo! I doubt shareholders will complain if there’s another raid on the treasury.