Yahoo! (NASDAQ: YHOO) may have to quickly replace its CEO, Scott Thompson. Corporate governance questions have been raised because he lied about his education. Thompson also has lost some or nearly all of the respect of investors, employees and customers. Dissident shareholder group Third Point, which owns 5% of the portal company’s shares, is likely to sue Yahoo! to get it to disclose how its board picked Thompson as chief executive.
Yahoo! cannot take months to find someone to become its fifth chief executive in five years. This makes it much more likely it will turn to one of its board members or someone already in senior management. That leaves Yahoo! only two logical candidates. They are board member Thomas J. McInerney, the former chief financial officer of internet firm IAC/Interactive (NASDAQ: IACI), or Ross Levinsohn, the firm’s executive vice president and head of global media. Levinsohn is a former president of News Corporation’s (NASDAQ: NWS) Fox Interactive Media.
McInerney’s time as CFO of IAC/Interactive made him a high-level executive at a company very similar to Yahoo!. He also has served as CEO of the retailing division of IAC/Interactive, which includes HSN.com. Thompson’s plans for Yahoo! are to transform it into an e-commerce company. McInerney’s experience at HSN.com would allow him to spearhead such an initiative. Yahoo! also needs a deal-maker to handle its negotiations to sell all or part of its ownership in Ablibaba and Yahoo! Japan. Many investors believe that these positions are worth more than Yahoo!’s core business. McInerney worked at Morgan Stanley (NYSE: MS) early in his career.
Levinsohn ran one of the largest online divisions at any major media company while at News Corp. Before he recently became head of global media at Yahoo!, he was executive vice president of Yahoo!’s Americas region and oversaw the company’s North, Central and South American business, including advertising sales, partnerships and content. Advertising remains Yahoo!’s major source of revenue. In Levinsohn’s current position, he supervises products, partnerships, engineering and content creation around the world. That means he plays a part in almost every important operation at Yahoo!. Levinsohn has been at Yahoo! long enough to understand the entire company. It is a wonder he was not made CEO ahead of Thompson.
Yahoo!’s board is out of time, if it plans to swiftly replace Thompson. And the list of candidates who can take over quickly is a very short one.
Douglas A. McIntyre