The Yahoo board seems determined to continue making who will be CEO the story, instead of what the CEO will do or what the digital media company is accomplishing. The board met Wednesday in advance of Thursday’s annual meeting and next week’s earnings but held back on an announcement about whether interim CEO and media chief Ross Levinsohn has the job.
It would seem to be simple enough, which is why many people expected that news Wednesday and why Yahoo might start running into problems if it isn’t announced today, preferably before the board meeting. Holding off any longer, if it is Levinsohn, makes little sense unless someone hopes a later announcement will overshadow earnings. That would be a mistake.
The two-month search for the third CEO in a year — typing that really drives it home — even took over the headlines of a big win for Yahoo when the Facebook patent agreement should have been the only company news getting attention.
Instead, the overarching story was who else might be in the running for CEO and, just as the Facebook settlement was coming out, Hulu said its CEO Jason Kilar, considered by some to be a leading candidate for the Yahoo post, “graciously” took himself out of the running. Levinsohn’s work with Facebook to repair the relationship damaged by ex-CEO Scott Thompson’s lawsuit over patents (supported by some still on the board) and the details of the deal got attention but much of it was still in the context of whether it would help him get the job.
Dayenu (a Hebrew word that means “enough already”). Levinsohn won’t make all the right moves — no CEO does– but he has deep inside and industry knowledge plus the backing of enough people inside and out to start from a better foundation than most Yahoo CEOs of the modern era have had. Dragging it out even this long risks undermining that.
Pivotal Research Group’s Brian Wieser put it like this in a client note Wednesday:
“BOTTOM LINE. We believe the Yahoo Board of Directors will soon announce that Ross Levinsohn will formally become its new permanent CEO. We would view such news favorably, as it involves the installation of an individual with most of what the company needs for the role. It also eliminates risks associated with a transition if someone else were chosen.”
At this point, about the only hire Yahoo could make instead of Levinsohn for the role and get away with it would be Sheryl Sandberg. The chances of that, of course, are slim and none.
An announcement could come as early as this morning. We can only hope.
Update: So much for hope. Nothing today, and if Kara Swisher’s sources are on mark, nothing anything soon as the board equates a lengthy search process with a careful one. A look at recent history would show that’s not always the case but this new board would rather not follow the previous board’s track record with its first choice of CEO. The board, writes Kara, “still is pondering if Levinsohn is the right leader for the company, debating whether a more product-centric exec or one who has had more CEO experience is the better choice for the future direction of the company.”
Meanwhile. Levinsohn is in the spotlight and has chalked up some wins. He considered leaving when Scott Thompson first got the job and I doubt he’d have stayed much longer with the former PayPal exec in charge. Will he stay through this process? Even though he’s been able to hire top execs and make his own org chart, some of his supporters are warning the board not to take him for granted. The suggestion isn’t that he would leave in a huff but that he’s be more vulnerable to offers from other companies searching for senior or top execs. Names raised include Comcast — and Hulu, if Kilar negotiates his way off the island.