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With the recent departure of the foul-mouthed, gun-slinging Yahoo! CEO Carol Bartz, the resignation of ex Google CEO Eric Schmidt and the stepping down of Apple’s CEO Steve Jobs — a new era in Silicon Valley has dawned.
Apart from the old guard at Microsoft, all of the Valley’s major technology companies are under ‘new’ management.
Seasoned veteran Bartz, who had a distinguished career including being the CEO of Autodesk and being on the boards of both Cisco and Intel, was brought in to replace Jerry Yang. At the time of her appointment most analysts in the know cited her lack of vision and imagination in comparison to her long history of running a company. They stated that the former was needed to resurrect the fortunes of Yahoo! and in this they have been proven right. Yahoo’s share price is almost exactly the same as it was when she joined the company in January 2009.
In fact, in late developments, the stock went up 6 percent after the announcement of Bartz’s resignation. One big deal that was meant to change all that was the partnership with Microsoft whereby all of Yahoo’s search results would be powered by Bing — and yet whilst Google’s display ad revenue figures were soaring, Yahoo’s figures still managed to topple.
Bartz did what any good corporate governor would do and shut down some of the floundering peripheral startups Yahoo was involved in, and also cut quite a few jobs in order to lower operational costs. But these fiscal actions weren’t the kind of visionary leadership Yahoo! required. It needed a digital messiah, and all it got was a prophet of practicality. Even today, the handing over of the reigns to Yahoo’s CFO, Tim Morse, indicates that Yahoo! still hasn’t cottoned onto this requirement although Darren Haines, spokesman for Paddy Power, has gone onto say:
Yahoo! is a falling giant struggling to live with the new kids on the internet block and as such the early betting suggests an internal appointment with several Yahoo! names at the head of the market. If you’re a leading light at Facebook, Apple, Twitter or Google why would you step out of the title race for a relegation battle?
Coincidentally the company has pegged Ross Levinsohn, the current Executive Vice President of Americas, to take the top job at 4/1. That might all fall by the wayside if Yahoo!, which has put itself up for sale, is acquired. The problem with this conundrum is that if it’s so willing to sell, why would a top digital media leader want to pursue a career there? At the heart of the matter is Yahoo!’s purpose with Business Insider concluding that:
The company needs to embrace the fact that it’s now a media, content, and communications company–and make heavy investments in those areas. It needs to radically streamline itself. And it needs a leader with a clear product vision and the ability to execute on it.
On Google’s side of the valley Larry Page must be relishing every opportunity he can get to catch up on some sleep. During his brief tenure, which began in April, Page has had to deal with the launch of Google+ — the success of which he’s pegged 25 percent of employee bonuses, the acquisition of Motorola and having to fork out US$500-million for selling illegal drugs online through its Adwords platform.
Page has also mentioned putting “more wood behind fewer arrows” in the sense that more resources will be put into fewer, more successful projects. Google has historically been a technology company with a media problem. It provides users with the means of searching, sharing and publishing but Google itself is not a publishing company in the sense that Yahoo! still is. The constriction of resources indicates that the battle will be fought much harder in the future.
Apple users will hope that ‘the spirit of Steve’ will linger on in the company far after the departure of their beloved leader and in the short term this might be the case. All of its upcoming products, including the iPhone 5 were well into production before Jobs stepped down earlier this quarter.
Obviously the true test of the company’s vision will happen next year once the dust has settled. The signs are encouraging though with incumbent CEO Tim Cook saying in an email to Apple employees that:
I want you to be confident that Apple is not going to change. I cherish and celebrate Apple’s unique principles and values. Steve built a company and culture that is unlike any other in the world and we are going to stay true to that—it is in our DNA. We are going to continue to make the best products in the world that delight our customers and make our employees incredibly proud of what they do.
At the core of these tectonic movements within the Valley lies the issue of purpose and focus upon it. Yahoo! clearly lost its way when things started hotting up on the search front and its partnership with Bing wasn’t a good enough catch-up ploy; Google is seen to be straddling the media/technology fence a little more — increasingly so with its launch of Google+ and yet the company with more money than the USA is hoping its prime focus on technology will see it win in the long term.