Carol Bartz: Yahoo! CEO For Life

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Carol Bartz, the CEO of Yahoo! (NASDAQ: YHOO), is supposed to be fired this week, this month, or later this year,  according to a number of media outlets. The reason is that Yahoo!’s stock price is down this year. It is down, but only by a about as much as Google’s (NASDAQ: GOOG) or Microsoft’s (NASDAQ: MSFT).

Bartz is supposed to have done a bad job as chief of the portal company, but that may not be true at all. She has been criticized for having a poor relationship with the management of Alibaba, a large Chinese internet company. Yahoo! owns 39% of the mainland-based firm. Analysts speculate that this  stake may be worth $10 billion and argue Yahoo! should sell it. That only makes sense if the Yahoo! board does not believe it will increase in value. It is hard to see why it matters what Alibaba thinks about Bartz at all.

Another criticism of Bartz is that many top managers recently have left the company. Who knows for sure if Bartz and the board wanted to keep these people? Granted, media chief James Pitaro went to Walt Disney (NYSE: DIS), but some of the other managers may have been poor performers.

Bartz has also been criticized because she has not articulated the Yahoo! future. She has done a great deal about its past mistakes. Bartz merged Yahoo!’s search functions with Microsoft.  Redmond had more capital to increase market share against Google than Yahoo! did on its own. Bartz saved money in the process. She said at the time that the annual improvement to Yahoo!’s operating profit would be $500 million.

The portal business is a tough one. Microsoft’s MSN has less revenue than Yahoo! and loses money. AOL (NYSE: AOL) has a smaller market cap than Yahoo! and has struggled more with revenue growth and management retention. AOL has replaced many of its senior people with Google executives.

CEO performance is relative, particularly to the results of similar companies, firms in the same sector. Bartz has not done badly by that measurement. Actually, she has done relatively well.

Douglas A. McIntyre