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Yahoo Hires: Carol Bartz to Become CEO

yahoo hiredThe presidential inauguration is scheduled for January 20th.   Yahoo anointed its own new leader a week earlier. Confirming earlier reports, the company announced Tuesday that Carol Bartz, the former CEO of Autodesk, accepted an offer for the position.

Bartz emerged in recent weeks as a surprise front runner for the slot abdicated by Jerry Yang in November.  Beating out established insiders, and a host of high profile names linked to the position, she’s expected to bring a deft hand; one many hope capable of restoring the company’s luster (historical stock charts show running the company was a difficult task for her predecessors).  The expectations, and challenges, she’ll face will both be significant.

In a statement, Yahoo Chairman Roy Bostock expressed the company’s excitement over completing the process.  “[Carol Bartz] is the exact combination of seasoned technology executive and savvy leader the Board was looking for and we are thrilled to have attracted such a world class talent,” he said.

yahoo bartz drawing smallSince 2006, Bartz has been Executive Chairman of Autodesk.  Prior to that, she led the company as its CEO for fourteen years.  Revenues during that period grew by a factor of more than five times to a result of $1.523 billion in Fiscal 2006.  Before Autodesk Bartz held a number of positions at Sun Microsystems over a ten year period, finishing as VP of Worldwide Field Operations.  She’s also worked at Digital Equipment Corp. and 3M.  Among her professional accolades, she’s been named to such esteemed lists as Barron’s 30 Most Respected CEO’s (2005) and Fortune’s 50 Most Powerful Women in Business (2005).

 Coinciding with Bartz hiring, Sue Decker, Yahoo’s current president, tendered her resignation.  Passed over for the leadership opportunity, Decker’s  apparently decided to seek new challenges and the prospect of the top executive position elsewhere.  She will stay on for a transition period.

Sentiment about the choices, both Bartz hiring and Decker’s departure seems to be mixed.  Around the web, supporters and critics are weighing in. On the positive, many laud Bartz’ experience and credentials. There is a sizable group that believes she’ll bring fresh ideas and strong, focused leadership to a company much in need.   She has a reputation for emphasizing the customer while simultaneously working well with both Wall Street and Partners. Notable Silicon Valley executives including Cisco’s John Chambers speak very highly of her.

On the side of critics, some question whether the same skills and personality traits that fueled her success in the software industry will translate favorably to the advertising economy of an Internet giant.  There are also questions to whether her longstanding relationship with Jerry Yang will help ease her entrance, or impede her operational independence (The two have served together on Cisco’s board of directors since Yang’s appointment in July 2000.  Bartz has been a Cisco board member since 1996.  She’s also on the board at Intel).

If there are questions about Bartz’ personality and style, her history lends some valuable insight to what she’ll likely bring to Yahoo:

For starters, she’s driven.  At sixty years old, and with significant achievement and wealth already to her credit, the CEO role isn’t a job she needs, it’s a job she wants.   She’s said in interviews, legacy and contribution are important to her.  She wants to leave a lasting mark and thrives on challenge.

Dating back to her Wisconsin childhood, she’s always had (interviews and reports suggest) a strong work ethic.  When her mother passed away while she was still a child, she put in extra time helping to raise her younger brother.  Before going to college she worked her way from secretary to teller in a local bank in Wisconsin.  Once math ambitions were replaced with computer dreams, she paid her way through school to get the degree.

At Sun, she showed her resourcefulness and resilience in sometimes unconventional ways.  One example – unwilling to make some sacrifices, she chose to balance family and work by creating an unusual commute between Texas and Mountain View, CA.  Every Thursday she’d fly home to spend the weekend with her young daughter. Monday’s she’d fly back to California for work.

At Autodesk, she showcased qualities of perseverance, optimism and strength.  The biggest story: cancer.  Just weeks after taking the CEO role, Bartz was diagnosed with the disease. Despite doctor recommendations to the contrary, she took only four weeks off.  She worked full-time during seven months of chemo therapy treatments believing there were bigger goals to accomplish; more important things to do than sit around and recuperate.  Her efforts helped turn around the company, which was a mess when she got there.

Another story showcasing similar willpower was reported in a 2006 article from More Magazine): to make her more than two hour (round trip) daily commute from Atherton to Autodesk’s San Rafael location more efficient, Bartz forced herself to overcome motion sickness brought on from reading in the car by simply working through it.  With a driver at the wheel, “We’d stop once, twice, sometimes three times along the way to throw up,” she’s quoted as saying.   Eventually, though, she got herself through it and was able to make the time in the car a functional commute.

Smart, driven, persistent, optimistic, but simultaneously, strong-willed and tough?  A frank fighter who likes big challenges and has a “turnaround story” already behind her?   Bartz could be just what Yahoo needs – assuming the different nature of the business doesn’t get in the way – which chances are, it won’t … at least insofar as fixing things is often an 80-20 problem.   (For eighty percent of the issues, management is the same animal regardless of the zoo.  For the other twenty percent, it can take some special feed).

For those looking to get for further insight into Carol Bartz management views, a selection of short videos where she talks candidly on the subject can be found at Stanford Technology Venture’s online archive.  The videos date from 2001 and 2006. They are available here.

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