Chapter 2 in Yahoo’s Summer of Drama

Yahoo is starting its first full week with an updated board of directors and a fresh outlook for the future. Former Viacom CEO Frank Biondi Jr. and former Nextel CEO John Chapple — both recommended by outspoken shareholder-turned-board-member Carl Icahn — were officially appointed to leadership roles Thursday. Now, the company will try to find the path away from public battles and into success.

Icahn, for his part, has yet to reveal a formal plan to turn the company around. He initially promised a “quick sale” to Microsoft if his leadership were to be put in place, but that notion is looking less and less likely.

Identity Crisis

The problem, it seems, ultimately comes down to identity: Before it can consider a high-stakes sale, Yahoo has to decide what it is — and what goals it wants to pursue.

“I think the big problem is Yahoo doesn’t know what it wants to be when it grows up,” David C. Logan, a lecturer at the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business, told the E-Commerce Times. “It’s difficult to talk about mergers and acquisitions when you don’t have a clear vision, and I don’t think Yahoo has a clear vision right now,” he said.

In Yahoo’s instance, Logan theorizes, that vision is about more than just the future. Rather, it represents a basic understanding of culture — something Yahoo could stand to learn from its competitors.

“From top to bottom, Google has a very clear sense of who it is — what it’s trying to do, what its niche is, how it’s going to grow,” Logan pointed out.

“Yahoo has none of those things — and as long as that’s the case, they’re going to continue floundering. They’re going to flounder if they’re talking about mergers and acquisitions, and they’re going to flounder if they’re talking about management and continued operations of the company,” he noted.

Opportunities Lost

By losing that focus, Yahoo may have lost its chance to stay current in the 2.0-centered Web world. The question, of course, is whether it’s too late to turn things back around.

“Yahoo’s in an interesting position,” explained Rob Enderle, principal analyst of the Enderle Group. “They’re a company that was traded in the early days of the Web, and to a large extent, the Web changed and moved away from their model.”

Businesses such as MySpace and Facebook, Enderle asserts, should have been born within Yahoo’s walls — but the company was too focused elsewhere to see the opportunity.

Expert Edge

So what now? One key step toward Yahoo’s success could come from taking full advantage of its new leaders and their rich business backgrounds.

“Those two guys represent a toe in the water in both [the advertising and subscription] revenue worlds, where [Yahoo is] underperforming,” Alex Liu, vice president of the telecom practice at A.T. Kearney, told the E-Commerce Times.

“If I were them, I’d be pushing very actively on the agenda of what are we going to do to push from an underperformer to an overperformer in both of those segments. What are you doing to build critical mass and share in those against Google and the established ‘300 Spartans’ on the telephony side?” he asked.

The take-home message, Liu said, is simple: This is only the beginning.

“This is step two out of 10 — not step eight out of eight,” he commented.

“The more time they lose in these proxy battles and these pseudo-proxy battles, they’re giving Google more time — giving traditional telephony cellulars more time — to respond,” Liu concluded.

To Merge or Not to Merge?

With Microsoft inching further away from an acquisition deal, what’s yet to be seen is whether the idea of a merger could still be an option. The trick, though, may lie in not rushing to get back to that point.

“From a strategy perspective, you want to keep any option open as long as there’s not a compelling reason to close it,” Logan stated. “In this case, there’s no reason they should give up on the merger and acquisition front — but as they’re doing, that they should also try to come up with a clear and consistent plan,” he said.

That plan may ultimately mean Yahoo finding its way without another company’s hand.

“I think they’re going to have to do this on their own,” Enderle predicted. “I think looking for somebody to parachute in and buy the company really becomes the long shot, and now it’s really taking Yahoo back to whatever it is it wants to do when it grows up again.”

Philosophies aside, just trying to woo a willing buyer at this point could prove to be a substantial challenge.

“Finding a company that’s going to buy a property as expensive as Yahoo, particularly given the public nature of what happened during the Microsoft thing, is going to be tough. In this market — where everybody’s watching their cash real closely — it’s going to be double hard,” Enderle told the E-Commerce Times.

The final answer, then, may be going back to square one — and going away from the sweeping public statements that filled the tech space all summer.

“Having solid strategy and execution against that strategy is going to make the difference,” Enderle argued. “You can only get away with rhetoric for so long.”

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