Good riddance Carol Bartz

Personally, I’ve never liked Carol Bartz. For some reason, it is impossible for her name to be mentioned without a mental image of Sarah Palin forming in my head instead. And you don’t need to know a great deal of my political views to understand that this isn’t a good association.

While Bartz does (presumably) know that Africa is a continent, and is highly unlikely to produce a reality TV show featuring her tackling grizzly bears in Alaska (actually, Hell, I’d watch that!), she is known for her not infrequent gaffes in interviews, and is the subject of an entire industry’s mockery. And, thanks in part to her, so is Yahoo!

Yahoo! was once, and quite deservedly, known as a great company. And yet time and time again it has — to a chorus of palms meeting foreheads — made further progress in what seems a determined effort to undo any of their great work of the past. It has acquired an astounding 64 companies at the latest count (even Google have ‘only’ claimed 100 odd), aren’t short on money. Yahoo! has an established and recognised brand, a fair chunk of users, and a pretty bright group of people all working in the same building. In fact, it was just three years ago that Microsoft laid a US$44-billion acquisition offer on the table, only to be told that it was too low (its current market value is $17.7-billion) So what’s the problem?

Yahoo’s shortcoming is one of strategy.

In an interview with the formerly-respected Michael Arrington at Disrupt 2010, Bartz described Yahoo! as a “media company”. Nothing wrong with that. It’s worked out just fine for AOL, after all.

But Yahoo! isn’t. At best, I would describe Yahoo! as a ‘sales and marketing’ company. It has completely missed the world of social, the one race it could have beaten Google in. Mobile, too, appears irrelevant to the company. And it has thrown money at great startups to bring them on board, only to do nothing with them once they are. There is an overwhelming sense that nobody at Yahoo! knows where the company’s going, just that this isn’t the right way to get there.

The blame for that sits squarely for the individual charged with setting the direction, purpose and strategy for the business. In Yahoo’s case, that was Bartz. In her rare defence, the company she inherited in 2009 wasn’t exactly a business in a good position, but it was her job to change that. A job that she failed in.

Whoever steps in to take on the role left empty has a tough task ahead of them. As the days tick on, the once-powerful business dips further into irrelevance. To turn that around, Yahoo! needs a strong and meaningful direction; one that involves a great deal more of innovation, and a great less of trying to be Google.

Only then will Yahoo! deserve to once again have that exclamation mark at the end of its name.

Image: Yahoo!



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