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Yahoo! CEO Jerry Yang to step down
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By David Ferguson

Forty-year old "Jerry Yangs" are very much in the news these days. The poker player who goes by that name became one of the world's biggest winners when he scooped the jackpot at the 2007 World Series of Poker, taking home the whole US US$8.25 million pot.

Now his even more illustrious namesake, the Taiwan-born Jerry Yang who founded the world's biggest Internet company, Yahoo!, has run out of cards to play. The web giant announced on Monday that its Board of Directors has initiated a search for a new Chief Executive Officer to fill Jerry's role. He will continue to serve on the Board, but back in his previous role, the amusingly titled if somewhat unspecific "Chief Yahoo!".

Jerry Yang [File photo]

Yang, 40, assumed the CEO role at the Board's request in June 2007, and he has led Yahoo! through a strategic repositioning and transformation of its platform. But his biggest gamble did not come off when he went toe-to-toe with Microsoft's Bill Gates on a possible buy-out of Yahoo! earlier this year. The not entirely welcome approach failed -- some insiders claiming that Yang's personality got in the way -- at a reported price of around US$33 per share, and the Yahoo! price is now languishing below US$11, to the chagrin of its shareholders.

"From founding this company to guiding its growth into a trusted global brand that is indispensible to millions of people, I have always sought to do what is best for our franchise," said Jerry. "When the Board asked me to become CEO and lead the transformation of the Company, I did so because it was important to re-envision the business for a different era to drive more effective growth."

The official story remains that the decision to replace Yang was a "mutual" one, although one would hardly expect it to be portrayed as otherwise. "Over the past year and a half, despite extraordinary challenges and distractions, Jerry Yang has led the repositioning of Yahoo! on an open platform model as well as the improved alignment of costs and revenues," said Chairman Roy Bostock.

"Jerry and the Board have had an ongoing dialogue about succession timing, and we all agree that now is the right time to make the transition to a new CEO who can take the company to the next level. We are deeply grateful to Jerry for his many contributions as CEO over the past 18 months, and we are pleased that he plans to stay actively involved at Yahoo! as a key executive and member of the Board."

Now working with the company's non-executive directors and "in consultation" with Yang, Bostock is leading the process of assessing potential candidates and determining a short-list for consideration. The Board has retained Heidrick & Struggles, a leading international executive search firm, to assist in the process, said Yahoo!, and the search will encompass both internal and external candidates.

One internal candidate who is believed to be under consideration but is unlikely to see her candidacy succeed is current President Sue Decker -- her perceived closeness to Yang, and her senior role in the company over a period in which its stock price has plummeted, will certainly count against her.

Yang's own statement was no more revealing than could be expected: "Having set Yahoo! on a new, more open path, the time is right for me to transition the CEO role and our global talent to a new leader," he said. "I will continue to focus on global strategy and to do everything I can to help Yahoo! realize its full potential and enhance its leading culture of technology and product excellence and innovation.”

The final straw for the Yahoo! board may have been the collapse of a proposed advertising partnership with Google. Originally seen as an alternative to the Microsoft deal, the proposal fell foul of the US Justice Department's anti-trust legislation, and in early November Google finally decided to pull the plug rather than persist with an expensive, time-consuming, and possibly futile case. The failure of this deal has fuelled rumors that Microsoft may now take another run at Yahoo!.

(China.org.cn November 18, 2008)

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