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Jerry Yang to Step Down as Yahoo CEO

yhoo help smallJerry Yang took the helm of Yahoo a year and half ago with a plan to restore the then struggling company he co-founded to its former glory.  Amidst mounting pressure from major shareholders, he’ll step down with the task far from complete.

Yahoo announced Monday evening that executive search firm Heidrick and Struggles has been retained to help them find a new CEO.  Jerry Yang will stay in the roll until a replacement is found.  He’ll then revert to his role as “Chief Yahoo.”

koogle era semel era yang eraRunning Yahoo has never been an easy task.  As demonstrated in historical stock charts depicting the stewardship of each of Yahoo’s CEO’s (shown here split adjusted), despite the company’s amazing audience growth, there’s been a consistent ebb and flow to the valuation of the company since its public debut. All of the executives saw value erode in the later periods of their tenure.

Jerry Yang’s short term was particularly tempestuous.  From February 2008 until May, he went to head to head with Steve Ballmer and Microsoft. Through the spring and summer, he faced off with shareholder Carl Icahn over board seats and corporate strategy.    Into the fall, he’s faced defecting staff and an economic environment not before seen in the lifespan of the company.

There was more value in the company than Microsoft’s offer, Yang told investors. Again and again, the message was to give it time, to let work get done. But Yahoo’s near-term hopes were pinned to their pending search partnership with Google.  When Google decided to abandon that pact in the face of anti-trust scrutiny, Jerry Yang’s executive-lifeline and remaining shareholder goodwill likely went with it. 

Echoing sentiments about the "right time" expressed by Terry Semel in his departure memo, Jerry Yang said, “from founding this company to guiding its growth into a trusted global brand that is indispensable to millions of people, I have always sought to do what is best for our franchise.”

“When the Board asked me to become CEO and lead the transformation of the Company," Yang said, "I did so because it was important to re-envision the business for a different era to drive more effective growth.  Having set Yahoo! On a new, more open path, the time is right for me to transition the CEO role and our global talent to a new leader.”

Reportedly both internal and external candidates are being considered in the executive search.

yahoo ceoProspects potentially on the short list likely include company president Sue Decker, former Nextel CEO and current Icahn promoted Yahoo board member John Chapple, News Corp’s number two exec. Peter Chernin, and former AOL chief and current Velocity Interactive VC partner Jon Miller. 

Miller could be a front runner but non-compete issues probably will make that prospect unrealistic. (Miller was a candidate for the Board on Carl Icahn’s slate but his appointment was blocked by a non-compete agreement. The same agreement reportedly remains in force until March). 

Other names likely to be batted around the blogosphere will probably include Paypal co-founder Peter Thiel, Marc Andreesen, former cisco star and current Joost head, Mike Volpi, former Fox Interactive head (and current Velocity Interactive partner) Ross Levinsohn, and possibly former Googler and current Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg.

As has been the case with other executive changes and other major corporate events in the recent past, a message was sent specifically to Yahoo staff to inform them of what’s happening.   (All Things Digital obtained a copy. It’s available here).

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