Yahoo Shakeup: The Meaning Of Is

Today’s announcement of Terry Semel’s move to non-executive chair of Yahoo answered one major question — no more ‘when will Semel be out?’ stories — but, no matter how loud the protests, one key question isn’t going away and another has joined it. Is Yahoo for sale or up for grabs in some form? Is Jerry Yang a placeholder CEO for Sue Decker or some external candidate?

The answer to both is no, Yang insisted during the analysts’ call and interviews. The answer is yes, say others — usually unidentified.

The NYT quotes “several current and former Yahoo employees” who said they did not expect Yang to make radical changes to Semel’s strategies. “These employees said, moreover, they expected that Mr. Yang would most likely spend only a limited amount of time as chief executive. If Ms. Decker is able to prove her management skill, she will likely take the top job, they said.”

The WSJ heard much the same and asked Yang, who said he was not serving an interim role. One person familiar with the board deliberations told the Journal Yang’s position “wasn’t designed to be only an interim role, and that ‘he’s going to be in that job longer than people think.'” Then again, the Journal offers conflicting reports of how this all came about:

Version 1: Semel notified the board during an emergency phone meeting Sunday but the timing surprises some board members. Semel’s succession has been discussed at every board meeting for a year.

Version 2: Directors conferred informally before deciding Friday that Semel should leave as CEO because “Yahoo wasn’t catching up with Google.” Semel insists he wasn’t pushed out.

Variation on a theme: The vote withholding and the dissension at the annual shareholder meeting last week made an impact.

Variation on a theme II: Yang was the one who asked Semel to leave now, or, as Kara Swisher puts it, “the one who – politely – pulled the trigger yesterday on the CEO he had been key to hiring with much fanfare and initially terrific results many years ago.”

However it happened, here’s the gist: Jerry Yang is CEO and, as a Yahoo spokesperson said Monday night when I asked if co-founder David Filo was reporting to Yang — “As the new CEO, the entire organization rolls up into Jerry.” It may be difficult, as analysts and other observers have said, to figure out Yang’s actual role during the Semel years but everything that happens from here out — even if it comes directly from Decker — rolls up into Jerry. It’s Pottery Barn time.