Bartz looks to revive struggling Yahoo

Analysts say that the new CEO could rekindle talks with Microsoft.

Although new Yahoo Inc. CEO Carol Bartz lacks consumer Internet experience, analysts say her forceful style should serve the struggling Internet pioneer well.

"A lot of people have been surprised, but I think she's a tremendous choice," said David Card, an analyst at Forrester Research Inc.

"Being a CEO is about strategy, executing big-picture stuff and raising capital. Whether she's an Internet person isn't the issue. She's in the top quintile of CEOs -- the top 20%," Card added.

Bartz joined Yahoo early last week after a long stint atop Autodesk Inc., a maker of design software.

She replaces Yahoo co-founder Jerry Yang, who stepped down last November after Microsoft Corp. ended its effort to buy the Sunnyvale, Calif.-based firm. Yang was also at the helm during the breakdown of an online advertising deal with Google Inc., and two rounds of layoffs.

Yang will reassume his former post of "Chief Yahoo" and remain on the company's board. Bartz applauded Yang's continuing role in the company. "No one knows more about Yahoo than Jerry," she said.

The company also announced that Sue Decker, a close supporter of Yang who had been a candidate for the CEO position, has resigned as president of Yahoo.

In a press briefing, Bartz said she plans to talk to employees, customers and investors as she develops a rebound strategy.

She wouldn't say how long it will take to develop that plan. "Let's not put ourselves on some crazy timeline. Let's let this process evolve," she said.

In general, though, she said that Yahoo should focus on being the top company in all of its markets and on creating new geographic and vertical businesses.

"I wouldn't have taken the job if I didn't believe there's a huge opportunity here," Bartz added. "I just see this as a company with enormous assets that, frankly, could use a little management."

Dan Olds, an analyst at Gabriel Consulting Group Inc., speculated that the change in leadership could lead to a resumption of talks between Yahoo and Microsoft about a merger or other arrangement.

"I would expect her to take a hard look at a potential deal and evaluate it on its business merits," he added. The previous management team, he said, appeared "much more interested in remaining independent from Microsoft at all costs."

Opportunity Revisited

In early May, Microsoft broke off negotiations to buy Yahoo, contending that the Internet firm had overvalued itself. A month later, Yahoo ended talks about a narrower deal in which Microsoft sought to purchase the Yahoo search engine.

Gartner Inc. analyst Neil MacDonald said that an agreement with Microsoft could help the new CEO implement her plan.

"From a search perspective, Microsoft needs Yahoo and Yahoo needs Microsoft if they are to create a credible alternative to Google," he said in an e-mail. "An infusion of cash from Microsoft could enable the new CEO to reinvigorate the Yahoo brand and properties."

On the other hand, Greg Sterling, an analyst at Sterling Market Intelligence, said he expects Bartz to maintain Yahoo's independence for as long as possible.

"It's not a given she'll sell the business," he said, noting that comments Bartz made during a conference call last Tuesday point to her intention to "settle in for the longer term."

"She has talked like someone who is pretty passionate about the opportunity" to pull Yahoo out of its slump, Sterling said.

Olds described Bartz as "the definition of 'adult management.' [She] has shown herself to be able to grow companies through both good and bad times." He also suggested that Bartz's lack of experience in Internet businesses "will be a benefit to the company. She will bring a forceful pragmatism that I believe is missing. I see her as a force that can change the culture at Yahoo."

Bartz was president and CEO of Autodesk for 14 years before stepping down in 2006 and taking the post of executive chairman of the board. Previously, she was an executive at Sun Microsystems, Digital and 3M.

Elizabeth Montalbano and Juan Carlos Perez of the IDG News Service contributed to this story.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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