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@ D7: Yahoo CEO Carol Bartz Tries Image Shift

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imageForget the quips being twittered about. Yahoo (NSDQ: YHOO) CEO Carol Bartz wasn’t at D7 for a stand-up routine. She was here to undo the damage from last year’s indecisive performance by Jerry Yang — and she did it with a vengeance. Assertive with a capital A, Bartz took on interviewer Kara Swisher, News Corp (NYSE: NWS) Chairman and CEO Rupert Murdoch (offering Yahoo as a better ad option and calling him out for not paying attention) and the perception of Yahoo as a 98-lb. weakling.

How do you change that last view? Bartz said it herself: “The best way you change perception is to do a good job and talk about it.” For instance, she challenged the idea that Yahoo has lost the youth market. “In the 18-24 demo, we have 76 percent reach. We just have to get our story out there. We have to appeal to the people who come to us … and at some point people get tired of Yahoo being the underdog.”

But saying so emphatically doesn’t make it so. If that were the case, Yahoo’s problems would have been solved years ago. Bartz also talked about the changes. During a meeting at his house while Yang was wooing her for CEO, Bartz says he pulled a flip chart out a closet and drew an org chart that was like a “Dilbert” cartoon. At a different point, she spoke about people not knowing who got to make decisions. She has been streamlining products but also changing aspects like adding engineers and subtracting product managers.

Bartz also firmly answered a question Yang fumbled last year, skipping right by the media company or tech company conundrum. What is Yahoo? “A place people come to every day to check in with the people and things people are interested in.” That definition leaves all kinds of room.

The instant feedback after the session suggests that Bartz completed at least part of her mission. Whether or not people think Yahoo is on the right track, they believe she’s a leader.

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