David Prosser: Yahoo gave Bartz an impossible challenge


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The Independent Online

Outlook Any British football manager could have warned Carol Bartz what was coming. Less than two months ago, speculation that the end was nigh for Yahoo's chief executive forced the company's board to give Ms Bartz a public vote of confidence. Six weeks later, after what by all accounts was a terse telephone call with her chairman, she was out.

It will not take you long to find people celebrating Ms Bartz's demise. All the evidence is that she was not a popular boss at Yahoo – probably because she spent more time cutting costs and pursuing efficiencies than doing the vision thing that people find inspiring from dot.com leaders. Not that her approach did much for her standing with investors either, who judged her on the declining financials – not to mention a dismal share price performance.

Still, as trigger-happy football club chairmen almost always discover, firing the failing manager is the easy bit. Finding a replacement who can turn around the team's performance – with or without additional resources – invariably proves much more difficult.

So it is likely to prove at Yahoo, for while there can be no doubt Ms Bartz has failed to deliver on the turnaround brief she was given two-and-a-half years ago, it isdifficult to say what she could have done differently – or how the next chief executive might succeed where she has failed.

The insurmountable issue for Yahoo is that with each week that passes, it gets even more pummelled by Google and Facebook, which are steadily hoovering up more and more of the advertising spend on which the company relies. There is no sign it has the vision to find a game-changing way to close the gap on those rivals: it missed the social networking phenomenon, for example.

Moreover, if the big picture makes unpleasant viewing, the details don't make for happy reading either. Ventures with potential in Asia have soured – as in Yahoo's run-in with Alibaba in China – and staff morale has plunged.

In short, it is hard to see Ms Bartz's successor presiding over anything other than a break-up of the company. The challenge will be to recognise that inevitability – and then to maximise value for shareholders from sales of the publishing business, the ad sales operation and the various other interests. Attempting to delay the inevitable, on the other hand, will mean a disorderly break-up that damages investors further.