July 15, 2008
The Resurrection of Jerry Yang
Posted by Gordon Smith

That's the picture painted by Andrew Ross Sorkin, who attended Allen & Company’s annual conference in Sun Valley, Idaho with a large collection of "moguls." (Who says "moguls" anymore, unless you are talking about skiing?) Lots of soundbites from sympathetic CEOs, who wouldn't want to be in Yang's shoes. Here is a sample:

“Steve is playing Carl to the hilt.... If Carl gets the board, Steve will buy Yahoo for a song — or watch Yahoo die on Carl’s watch.”

Not everyone at the conference believes that Steve Ballmer is the master of the universe: "'At this point, it’s embarrassing,' one technology C.E.O. whispered just out of earshot of Bill Gates. 'Ballmer should either buy the company or forget it.'"

For his part, Yang was "calm" -- "mingling effortlessly when he knew Mr. Ballmer and Mr. Icahn were off somewhere plotting his demise." Oh, brother. Does Sorkin work for Yahoo's PR department? Here is Yang being all noble:

“This isn’t about me.... It's about what’s going to happen to Yahoo.... Sure, it was on my mind, but I’ve gotten pretty good at compartmentalizing. If you let this sort of situation take over your life, it will. I have a business to run and stockholders to think about."

Compartmentalizing? That is a word that will forever be linked to Bill Clinton in my mind. Anyway, Owen Thomas offers another perspective:

That ignores Yang's responsibility for Yahoo's plight, of course. Could he not be the reason why Yahoo has been unable to attract a competent CEO a year after Terry Semel quit? A founder who holds a large, but not controlling stake, but is unable to let go of his company; who dithers on major decisions, stalling any action for fear of being wrong; who cannot articulate a vision for his company: Why would anyone want to work for such a man? Jerry Yang thinks he is irreplaceable in his willingness to be replaced. But the truth is, for Yahoo, he's not a martyr. He's a menace.

So which story do you believe? Yang as martyr or menace? Ballmer as master of the universe or embarrassment? From my desk, they both look like bumblers at this point, though coming events may provide redemption for one of them.

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