Yahoo says today that Autodesk’s former Executive Chairman Carol Bartz is taking over as the CEO, a major step forward for the beleaguered Sunnyvale, Calif.-based company. I also like that Sue Decker has decided to move on; that means a big housecleaning is going to start at Yahoo — exactly what the doctor ordered.
While I agree with the choice of Bartz (see my seven reasons below the fold), she has her work cut out for her, and my view on Yahoo changes day to day. The current economic downturn and the collapse of Yahoo’s big advertising verticals — finance and automobiles — is not over just yet. Similarly, Yahoo has problems with bureaucracy that need to be addressed. Most importantly, Bartz will have to help Yahoo rediscover its identity — and, while she might be a superwoman, it will take time.
Bartz, who was named as one of 20005’s 50 Most Powerful Women in Business, sat on President Bush’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology and is on the boards of Cisco and Intel. She holds an honors degree in computer science from the University of Wisconsin.
Here are 7 reasons why 60-year-old Bartz is the one to fix Yahoo and clean up its mess.
- She was the No. 2 executive at Sun Microsystems when she took over the top job at Autodesk in 1992. With sales of about $250 million, Autodesk was staring into an abyss, thanks to a hacker culture gone wild. When she left that position in April 2006 (and became Autodesk’s executive chairwoman), Autodesk had sales of $1.45 billion. The problem she fixed? Autodesk had a widespread culture of consensus bureaucracy, which bogged down the business. Yahoo has the same problems, so an encore won’t be that difficult.
- On the second day of her job at Autodesk, she discovered she had breast cancer. She managed to fix Autodesk and fight the cancer. Superwoman!
- In the 1990s, Autodesk saw many engineers leave, and Wall Street analysts wanted her to resign because the company was slow to adapt to the Internet . According to Business 2.0, she told the analysts, “You’d be happier if we were selling plastic-wrapped fruit baskets over the Internet?” She needs to do that again and tell Wall Street to shut up.
- Finding your passion is one of her management mantras. “When I say find your passion, some people might say this is not the right time and that we need to be pragmatic. But our passions and dreams should not move to the back burner when things get tough. This is exactly the time that we need to tap into new sources of energy,” she recently wrote. If she means what she writes, Yahoo engineers — still a strong cadre — are going to find a great leader in Bartz.
- According to a 1992 New York Times profile, she is “direct and quick-witted, quick to laugh and willing to tease her way through tense situations.”
- She is not shy about bringing down the hammer on her executive team if she isn’t happy with them. She is known to use foul language. For instance, she once told a reporter, “What the fuck does Adobe know about engineering drawings?” She blends these outbursts with diplomacy and a folksy style. These traits will come in handy when shaking up Yahoo’s hit-and-miss senior management.
- Bartz is known to take big bets. For instance, in early 1990s she bet AutoCad on Microsoft Windows and that bet paid off. In 1996 when she felt that computing (and the market) was ready, she got the company developing 3D-related products.
Research assistance by Susie Lin.