Yahoo! (Nasdaq: YHOO ) CEO Jerry Yang has to know that his days at the helm are about to end.
Swatting away Microsoft's (Nasdaq: MSFT ) amorous advances only bought him a handful of hourglass sand to get his stock above Microsoft's buyout price, and the ticker tape is going in the wrong direction for Yang.
When The New York Times predicts that Yang is about to be booted and TechCrunch begins sizing up CEO replacements, isn't it just a matter of time before the Yahoo! co-founder swallows his pride and steps down before security ushers him away?
Fixing Yahoo! won't be easy because Mr. Market never understood the company. Investors have always pointed to faster-growing Google (Nasdaq: GOOG ) as proof of Yahoo!'s failure, but the reality is that Yahoo!'s biggest gains have come in the slower-growing, less lucrative display advertising market.
This doesn't mean that Yahoo! -- and Yang -- are unfair scapegoats here. Yahoo!'s gradual erosion of search engine market share is a direct contributor to its paid search shortcomings. Heads will roll because of that.
However, where is the love for Yahoo!'s shrewd Asian investments in China's Alibaba, Yahoo! Japan, and South Korea's Gmarket (Nasdaq: GMKT ) ? Where are the "Kudos, Jerry!" nods for snapping up Flickr and the success of Yahoo! Answers?
You don't see the praise because all investors see is a $31 price that Yahoo! publicly shot down. Yahoo! may have been passing around the high-fives and fist pumps when it orchestrated a burdensome severance package or shooed away Steve Ballmer for good, but that is where Yahoo! failed its investors in a last-ditch effort to save its own insider hides.
No matter what Ballmer or Carl Icahn do, they already planted the seeds of discontent in roughed-up Yahoo! shareholders. Change will happen; it's just a matter of who will be the next CEO at Yahoo!.
The long and short of the short list
Sue Decker would have been a great candidate a year ago, but she is now too associated with Yahoo!'s current state to be seen as a solution. TechCrunch's Michael Arrington suggests former Yahoo! execs like Jeff Mallett and Dan Rosensweig are likely candidates, but I can't see that happening. Yahoo! may have been burned by reaching too far outside the industry with Terry Semel, but it's been burned over the past year by settling for an internal hire.
Yahoo!'s next CEO will probably not come from the ranks of current or former Yahoo! executives. Shareholders will demand fresh vision, uncluttered from the company's past mistakes. They will want either a proven name or someone with the pedigree to get it done.
My short list? Short of any worthy Google executive -- and plenty of them appear to be bolting Big G these days -- here are some worthies who should be approached:
- Meg Whitman: eBay's (Nasdaq: EBAY ) well-liked chieftain ushered an era of growth at the leading online giant until her departure earlier this year. Despite eBay's own recent shortcomings, Whitman was savvy enough to jump into faster-growing areas through the company's acquisitions of PayPal, StubHub, and Skype. She may be more interested in a political future at this point, but it would certainly help her cause to go out of corporate life having turned around a dot-com giant than simply handing off another as it was faltering.
- Michael Eisner: Yahoo! got burned the last time it went Hollywood (with Semel), but Disney's (NYSE: DIS ) former big cheese always kept an eye on Yahoo!. The rumor mills attached the two companies during the sudsy dot-com bubble days, even though Disney obviously resisted paying Yahoo!'s pricey ransom. Since leaving Disney, Eisner has taken interests in online ventures like video-sharing site Veoh and the Prom Queen viral video series. He did not leave Disney on his own terms, so you know he would love another shot at public redemption.
- Robert Kotick: Activision's (Nasdaq: ATVI ) CEO is the only Yahoo! board member worth considering on the inside, even though he may not be interested in the tall order. Activision is rocking at the moment, proving that Kotick has his pulse on what young consumers want through Guitar Hero's runaway success and the recent acquisition of the Web-tethered World of Warcraft juggernaut. He's been on the Yahoo! board for more than five years, long enough to know what worked -- and what mostly didn't -- at Yahoo!.
Where do you stand? Who would you like to see run Yahoo!? Is there another outsider who would be perfect and available? Yahooligans, feel free to make your case for why Yang deserves a shot or bring up another Yahoo! exec you think would work. These questions aren't rhetorical. Just go to the bottom of this page, and click on the comment box to nominate your own short-list candidate.