Investors won’t have Jerry Yang to blame anymore. In a stunning move announced after the markets closed, the Yahoo (NSDQ: YHOO) co-founder resigned from the company’s board of directors and from all other positions — effective immediately. Just as quickly, Yahoo’s stock jumped in after-hours trading.
From Yang’s letter to the board:
“My time at Yahoo!, from its founding to the present, has encompassed some of the most exciting and rewarding experiences of my life. However, the time has come for me to pursue other interests outside of Yahoo! As I leave the company I co-founded nearly 17 years ago, I am enthusiastic about the appointment of Scott Thompson as Chief Executive Officer and his ability, along with the entire Yahoo! leadership team, to guide Yahoo! into an exciting and successful future.”
It is a surprising move but only in its timing and its thoroughness. Activist shareholders — most notably Third Point’s Daniel Loeb — have called for his resignation, concerned in part that Yang was on the board while he was exploring ways to take the company private.
Yang also has stepped back before, resigning as CEO — but always keeing a connection. This time, Yang — aka the “Chief Yahoo” — is severing all ties with the company he and David Filo founded in 1995 for the navigational guide they developed as students at Stanford in 1994. He has been on the board since 1995, was CEO from 2007-2009, and at this writing, still anchors the management page.
That page is headed now by Scott Thompson, the PayPal president who joined Yahoo as CEO just two weeks ago, replacing Carol Bartz, who was fired on Labor Day. Yang’s departure letter includes a shout out for Thompson, who in press-release speak thanked Yang for “the warm welcome and support Jerry provided me during my early days here.” Thompson’s first earnings call in next Tuesday.
But Yang can’t get completely away: he’s still one of the company’s largest individual shareholders. And resigning won’t really help him escape the blame for Yahoo’s failure to thrive as an investment or to set a strong course, no matter how many highlights the company’s been able to string together. It also doesn’t blot out the memory of failing to sell to Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT) when the price was right.
What it does do is remove him as an impediment, imagined or real, to Yahoo’s future and leaves Roy Bostock, chairman of the board, as the lead voodoo doll for outside investors and critics to stick pins in until he, too, goes away. (Kara Swisher’s sources say Bostock and three others will be leaving soon: board vets Arthur Kern, Vyomesh Joshi, and Gary Wilson.)
Unless, of course, resigning from the boards of Yahoo, Yahoo Japan and and Alibaba Group is a palette cleanser for an effort to work outside the company to take it private.
I hope not. I hope Yang is sincere when he says it’s time to pursue interests outside of Yahoo! (I’ll give him the exclamation point this once).
It’s bittersweet to watch someone who has given his all, sometimes with stunning results and sometimes with outcomes far less than desired, decide what’s best for him — and the company — is to move on.
The sweet bit comes from knowing Jerry Yang has a lot more left to accomplish.