Yahoo Alumni on What Went Wrong

Weak culture, bloated middle management among top criticisms

Carol Bartz


For board members at the top of the company, the problem with Yahoo may have been outgoing CEO Carol Bartz, but people with experience on the ground say the situation is much more complicated.

Former Yahoo employees say that while the buck had to stop with Bartz, the company suffered from a bloated middle management, a lack of urgency, and a weak culture, much of which was seeded before Bartz’s arrival in 2009.

“Pre-Carol there was definitely a management deficit that had built up over time, just like when you spend on your credit card and don’t pay it down,” said a former Sunnyvale, Calif.-based executive who left Yahoo earlier this year for another tech firm. “This was definitely a tough, tough organization to turn around because it’s already big and global and this industry moves so fast and it moves so quickly away from where Yahoo has strengths. It would be a tough challenge for anybody, and it was a few years in the making before she got there.”

Still, he added that Bartz likely was not the best fit from the beginning.

Facing mounting competition from its Silicon Valley neighbors, Yahoo needed a visionary leader with good intuition about the industry, he said, but Bartz was a “management talent” who deferred to those beneath her.

That kind of strategy may work when times are good, but not for companies in Yahoo’s position, he said.

“The leader at the top should know a few make it or break it bets and just drive them to get them done,” he said. “[That takes] a unique skill set . . . and would have been a better fit. And it’s pretty universal that that wasn’t her strength.”

Others say that while Bartz wasn’t a visionary, her no-nonsense style was good for the company at the time.

“She was a very straightforward person. She was very direct. You could have a conversation with her and accomplish in 15 minutes what would have taken much longer with another person,” said Tim Mayer, currently COO of search marketing startup Trada, who worked at Yahoo from 2003 to 2010. “[That directness] was something that the company needed at that time, a leader that would hold people accountable.”

But Mayer, who left Yahoo as vp of search market share, said that many of Yahoo’s big bets in personalization, social, and mobile didn’t work out. While Yahoo is a huge, global company with lots of moving pieces and responsible individuals, “the CEO is ultimately responsible.”

A former Yahoo executive, who started working in the company’s New York office before Bartz's arrival, said, “I have a ton of respect for Carol . . . She’s a badass, she’s exactly what the company needed.”

When he ultimately decided to leave the company, he said, the famously “no-bullshit” Bartz sat down with him and listened to his observations on what was wrong at Yahoo. After the meeting, he

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