Why Sue Decker isn’t CEO of Yahoo…

The three inventors of DTrace at Sun Microsystems

So, just before interviewing Sun Microsystems’ DTrace team today (that’s a photo of them) I got a call from a source. He said “Semel is out. Yang is taking over.” This is why I am not a good journalist. I didn’t drop everything, tell the three geeks to hang on while I banged out a post, etc. Instead I went on with the interview, which was a lot of fun. It’s so nice to interview geeks who make things that transform businesses instead of marketing executives. Instead you’ll have to read the news reports and media storm over at TechMeme.

In case you’re wondering, that’s Bryan Cantril (right); Mike Shapiro (middle); Adam Leventhal, the three inventors of DTrace. Bryan’s wife gave birth to a baby boy yesterday afternoon which is why the three had cigars. More about DTrace and this team here.

Anyway, why isn’t Sue Decker the CEO of Yahoo? Because there are three separate constituencies that need a CEO at Yahoo.

1) Advertisers. They are very unhappy. I’ve talked with search engine marketers who do work for clients who take out thousands of ads on search engines and they tell me that Google’s service is easier to use than Yahoo’s and brings better results. They are customer #1 for Yahoo and explains why Semel is on the way out, why the stock price is flat, and why Decker isn’t CEO today. She simply hasn’t gotten the job done with the Panama platform that Yahoo/Semel/Decker were hoping it would be.
2) Geeks. Yahoo is losing geeks. Datacenter geeks. Networking geeks. Software geeks who’ll build the next cool search engines at Yahoo, etc. As I do more and more interviews I meet more and more people who tell me “I used to work at Yahoo.” It’s been a while since I’ve heard of a geek who’s done something the world respects end up at Yahoo. Even Yahoo’s good social media acquisition team has been quiet this year. I don’t remember meeting Sue Decker while hanging out at geek events. Maybe she gets along with developers, but the performance of Panama tells me she isn’t able to get the best from teams of developers.
3) Media types. You know, movie studios, vloggers, musicians, game designers, etc. This was Semel’s strong suit, except Semel, from what I’ve heard from several people, could barely type his own emails so didn’t quite enthuse the geekier of the creative types. I’m not sure how strong Sue Decker would be with this group, but I doubt it’d be strong. Musicians and folks like movie director Robert Rodriguez rarely get along with people who run advertising divisions at big companies.

I’d love to be wrong, though. Tell me why Sue would be a good leader to any of these three groups?

What’s really bad for Yahoo, though, is there isn’t a good CEO out there that’ll come in and be a quick fix for Yahoo’s problems. I think Jerry Yang will have to hire a CEO out of the advertising industry, since that’s where Yahoo is bleeding the most right now. The money is the main artery and that comes from ads at Yahoo. Geeks like Stewart Butterfield or Caterina Fake won’t be able to patch that up.

Unfortunately I don’t know of a good CEO for Yahoo right now. Who would I suggest? How about Clare Hart, vice president of Dow Jones?

The other lesson I take out of today’s news? Panama (Yahoo’s new advertising platform designed to compete with Google) is a failure. If it weren’t, Semel would be walking on water right now. That’s the real reason why Sue Decker isn’t in the CEO spot right now.

UPDATE: Jerry Yang (Yahoo’s temporary CEO) in his blog post, says that Panama had a “successful launch.” That’s not what I’m hearing from customers who buy lots of ads. It’ll be interesting to see what the next quarter’s numbers are.

79 thoughts on “Why Sue Decker isn’t CEO of Yahoo…

  1. Panama is the ad system for the search system. Yahoo has another ad system for their own properties. They aren’t the same. So customers running campaigns on yahoo properties wouldn’t see a difference.

    Panama was a huge effort in a difficult environment. I think they did everything possible to make it work. Give it some time.

  2. Panama is the ad system for the search system. Yahoo has another ad system for their own properties. They aren’t the same. So customers running campaigns on yahoo properties wouldn’t see a difference.

    Panama was a huge effort in a difficult environment. I think they did everything possible to make it work. Give it some time.

  3. Robert,
    We spend a healthy 5 figures monthly on Google and Yahoo. (each) While Google’s platform is easier to use, if the results (ROI) are good, we’d spend even if the platform were twice as painful, which it isn’t. Maybe 25% worse. The big deal is that, for some combination of reasons, Google gives us a better ROI, particularly at the margin: an additional dollar deployed through Google gives us 50% better ROI than on Yahoo.

    I hope the Bay Area is treaeting you well. Spring in MT is beautiful!

  4. Robert,
    We spend a healthy 5 figures monthly on Google and Yahoo. (each) While Google’s platform is easier to use, if the results (ROI) are good, we’d spend even if the platform were twice as painful, which it isn’t. Maybe 25% worse. The big deal is that, for some combination of reasons, Google gives us a better ROI, particularly at the margin: an additional dollar deployed through Google gives us 50% better ROI than on Yahoo.

    I hope the Bay Area is treaeting you well. Spring in MT is beautiful!

  5. Ever notice that nothing ever fails until the SEC regulated report? Whether it is Red Hat’s rather optimistic chatter followed by a filing that investors find tough to swallow or Yahoo or any other company… Time did a story on Arnold and Bloomberg…and what just being flippantly honest and actually attempting to solve problems could do… If it can work in local and state government, I wonder what it could do for American businesses? (an ironic twist) I like how you credit “geek” acquisition and retention. (Google Recruiters: buzz off. I hate California :-P )

  6. Ever notice that nothing ever fails until the SEC regulated report? Whether it is Red Hat’s rather optimistic chatter followed by a filing that investors find tough to swallow or Yahoo or any other company… Time did a story on Arnold and Bloomberg…and what just being flippantly honest and actually attempting to solve problems could do… If it can work in local and state government, I wonder what it could do for American businesses? (an ironic twist) I like how you credit “geek” acquisition and retention. (Google Recruiters: buzz off. I hate California :-P )

  7. I had made a mistake on the account name because it was so long ago. I’m positive none of the ads ran. I don’t even have the domain this email was under. Please give me the money back and close the account Yahoo. Thanks.

    Account Number: 1435598487
    Date: Oct 27 2005 05:02 PT

    You should give all the money back to all the people you ripped off too, without giving it to trial lawyers where they take 90%.

  8. I had made a mistake on the account name because it was so long ago. I’m positive none of the ads ran. I don’t even have the domain this email was under. Please give me the money back and close the account Yahoo. Thanks.

    Account Number: 1435598487
    Date: Oct 27 2005 05:02 PT

    You should give all the money back to all the people you ripped off too, without giving it to trial lawyers where they take 90%.

  9. Back to Yahoo. Do you know how many people got letters from the Overture class action settlement??

    Who the hell is going to trust them anymore?

    Does Yahoo want to give us our thousand dollars back?
    I don’t even know if 1 ad even got shown that they said was showing. If Yahoo is reading through this, check overture account beerco and send us a check.

    I blew $5200 on Radio advertising on CHOI FM in January. It didn’t really pay off because we don’t have thriving VC in our city, BUT at least I tuned in and listened to the ads on the radio. At least they played them. Ditto on Google adwords. To think I gave those bastards at Yahoo hundreds of dollars which they pissed away makes me never want to use their search or services again.

  10. Back to Yahoo. Do you know how many people got letters from the Overture class action settlement??

    Who the hell is going to trust them anymore?

    Does Yahoo want to give us our thousand dollars back?
    I don’t even know if 1 ad even got shown that they said was showing. If Yahoo is reading through this, check overture account beerco and send us a check.

    I blew $5200 on Radio advertising on CHOI FM in January. It didn’t really pay off because we don’t have thriving VC in our city, BUT at least I tuned in and listened to the ads on the radio. At least they played them. Ditto on Google adwords. To think I gave those bastards at Yahoo hundreds of dollars which they pissed away makes me never want to use their search or services again.

  11. searchengines: from what real search engine marketers tell me what you say is not true. Many companies are staying away from Yahoo because their platform is harder to use than Google’s and even when you figure out how to use it the results it brings aren’t as good as Google’s. I’ll have an interview with one such SEM up this week so you can hear it yourself.

  12. searchengines: from what real search engine marketers tell me what you say is not true. Many companies are staying away from Yahoo because their platform is harder to use than Google’s and even when you figure out how to use it the results it brings aren’t as good as Google’s. I’ll have an interview with one such SEM up this week so you can hear it yourself.

  13. Advertisers who spend thousands of dollars on Yahoo is not going to find it difficult to use Panama

    These are Geeks, they know that Yahoo users are more likely to click on the first Sponsor links, than skip to the organics

    These Advertising professionals are the built in tenacity to use Panama. The bottom line is ROI. If the PPCs are bringing in the prospects -that is all that matters.

    What could Semel have done better – they needed a bottom line business chief. Techie or not, it will not pay the bills without a good profit strategy.

    The bottom line is Yahoo Search is just not making it happen. Besides, Google has done wonders to BRAND itself into an almost Cult Status – Yahoo has not.

  14. Advertisers who spend thousands of dollars on Yahoo is not going to find it difficult to use Panama

    These are Geeks, they know that Yahoo users are more likely to click on the first Sponsor links, than skip to the organics

    These Advertising professionals are the built in tenacity to use Panama. The bottom line is ROI. If the PPCs are bringing in the prospects -that is all that matters.

    What could Semel have done better – they needed a bottom line business chief. Techie or not, it will not pay the bills without a good profit strategy.

    The bottom line is Yahoo Search is just not making it happen. Besides, Google has done wonders to BRAND itself into an almost Cult Status – Yahoo has not.

  15. LayZ: I know I have someone in my chat room who doesn’t like me.

    The corporate analysis? Hey, you know what they say, opinions are like [enter someone like LayZ here] every blogger has one. If you don’t like my opinion, go pick another off the tree. At least I sign my opinions with my own name so you know who I work for, what my biases are, and where I’m coming from (you can check how accurate or inaccurate I’ve been, etc).

  16. LayZ: I know I have someone in my chat room who doesn’t like me.

    The corporate analysis? Hey, you know what they say, opinions are like [enter someone like LayZ here] every blogger has one. If you don’t like my opinion, go pick another off the tree. At least I sign my opinions with my own name so you know who I work for, what my biases are, and where I’m coming from (you can check how accurate or inaccurate I’ve been, etc).

  17. as: I think she’s pretty impressive — I’ve interviewed more than 100 CEOs now and she sticks out of that crowd. But, you’re right. Like I said, it’ll probably be an advertising company executive who gets moved over.

  18. leave the corporate analysis to the professionals. Stick to what you know….er..whatever that is.

  19. as: I think she’s pretty impressive — I’ve interviewed more than 100 CEOs now and she sticks out of that crowd. But, you’re right. Like I said, it’ll probably be an advertising company executive who gets moved over.

  20. leave the corporate analysis to the professionals. Stick to what you know….er..whatever that is.

  21. David: yeah, but I’d put those people in the “geek” bucket, even though they aren’t really geeks in the developer sense of the word. But then neither am I.

  22. Everything you said was right until you said clare hart for CEO — how does a VP of a smaller media company take on the role of Y! CEO. Even with all of its issues Yahoo! is 12K employees, Global brand & presence, and deep in technology. Yahoo! needs somebody who has spent 10-15 yrs. on the product/technology side and has proven themselves on the operations/mgmt. front over the past 10 years. Yahoo! needs somebody who can inspire, motivate, and challenge thousands of engineers, product managers, interaction designers, network engineers, etc. to develop better, faster, and cooler applications.

  23. David: yeah, but I’d put those people in the “geek” bucket, even though they aren’t really geeks in the developer sense of the word. But then neither am I.

  24. Everything you said was right until you said clare hart for CEO — how does a VP of a smaller media company take on the role of Y! CEO. Even with all of its issues Yahoo! is 12K employees, Global brand & presence, and deep in technology. Yahoo! needs somebody who has spent 10-15 yrs. on the product/technology side and has proven themselves on the operations/mgmt. front over the past 10 years. Yahoo! needs somebody who can inspire, motivate, and challenge thousands of engineers, product managers, interaction designers, network engineers, etc. to develop better, faster, and cooler applications.

  25. What about the groups that actually interface with consumers to serve their needs? Isn’t that part of a portal/search engine anymore?

  26. What about the groups that actually interface with consumers to serve their needs? Isn’t that part of a portal/search engine anymore?

  27. Nah, she’s in finishing school Mr. S.

    She’ll get the job once Panama’s firing on as many cylinders as it can. She has a job to finish. Meanwhile, Mr. Y knows where all the bones are buried and has the cred of ‘co-founder’ to back him up as his ace card.

    BTW, they *KNEW* the qarterly numbers already and that’s why Mr. S is out.

    Still trying to figure out why Mr. Yang was on stage at MacWorld’s iPhone debut and not Semel? Wonder if they knew even THEN something was going down. That’s too big an event to have Jobs, Schmidt (CEOs) and Yang (not to diminish his stature… but, still, makes one wonder).

    Mr. Y is a topshelf guy and could hold the fort down while they fortify. Just glad that part of the train wreck is over and talented folks like Zawodny can flourish again.

  28. Nah, she’s in finishing school Mr. S.

    She’ll get the job once Panama’s firing on as many cylinders as it can. She has a job to finish. Meanwhile, Mr. Y knows where all the bones are buried and has the cred of ‘co-founder’ to back him up as his ace card.

    BTW, they *KNEW* the qarterly numbers already and that’s why Mr. S is out.

    Still trying to figure out why Mr. Yang was on stage at MacWorld’s iPhone debut and not Semel? Wonder if they knew even THEN something was going down. That’s too big an event to have Jobs, Schmidt (CEOs) and Yang (not to diminish his stature… but, still, makes one wonder).

    Mr. Y is a topshelf guy and could hold the fort down while they fortify. Just glad that part of the train wreck is over and talented folks like Zawodny can flourish again.

  29. Ahh, cool. Well she DID get a promotion today, it should be noted (she’s now President at Yahoo). So, the door is certainly wide open. If Panama really turns into a success behind her leadership maybe the CEO door will open for her?

  30. Ahh, cool. Well she DID get a promotion today, it should be noted (she’s now President at Yahoo). So, the door is certainly wide open. If Panama really turns into a success behind her leadership maybe the CEO door will open for her?

  31. I’ve known Sue since she was – and I’m not sure how many people remember this since it feels like a lifetime ago – the top II ranked newspaper and publishing analyst at DLJ. As a media investor at the time, I can vouch that in that capacity she was widely respected by the buy-side community, the ‘media types’ of the companies she covered and that she also had deep and insightful relationships in the advertising community. I’ll readily stipulate that the media business had changed dramatically, and that being president of Yahoo requires an entirely different relationship with these constituencies than being a sell-side analyst, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Sue emerged as a leading voice again.

  32. I’ve known Sue since she was – and I’m not sure how many people remember this since it feels like a lifetime ago – the top II ranked newspaper and publishing analyst at DLJ. As a media investor at the time, I can vouch that in that capacity she was widely respected by the buy-side community, the ‘media types’ of the companies she covered and that she also had deep and insightful relationships in the advertising community. I’ll readily stipulate that the media business had changed dramatically, and that being president of Yahoo requires an entirely different relationship with these constituencies than being a sell-side analyst, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Sue emerged as a leading voice again.

  33. Was “Panama” a reference to Van Halen or repeated invasions of the country by the US? Maybe they meant the hats or the cigars?

  34. Was “Panama” a reference to Van Halen or repeated invasions of the country by the US? Maybe they meant the hats or the cigars?

  35. “Chris: you’re funny!”
    http://blogs.adobe.com/penguin.swf/2006/09/whats_so_difficult_1.html

    If you look at the Adobe developer’s blog developing for Flash 9 for Linux, you can clearly see that Assembly optimization is a huge part of making a web browser vector plugin.
    “manual assembly language optimizations”
    The Adobe developer of Flash 9 Linux had put off releasing it for months because of GAS assembly problems converting from x86 in the Windows build.
    So that explicit requirement on the Apple job description further leads one to believe it could be for that purpose.

    Back to the regularly scheduled Yahoo talk….

  36. “Chris: you’re funny!”
    http://blogs.adobe.com/penguin.swf/2006/09/whats_so_difficult_1.html

    If you look at the Adobe developer’s blog developing for Flash 9 for Linux, you can clearly see that Assembly optimization is a huge part of making a web browser vector plugin.
    “manual assembly language optimizations”
    The Adobe developer of Flash 9 Linux had put off releasing it for months because of GAS assembly problems converting from x86 in the Windows build.
    So that explicit requirement on the Apple job description further leads one to believe it could be for that purpose.

    Back to the regularly scheduled Yahoo talk….

  37. They could have talking about quicktime, except quicktime is not interactive media. QT is a player for static media.

  38. One fine day 2 years ago I received a settlement award from Yahoo saying that they had ripped us off unknowingly with Overture for years at a time. I didn’t even claim it because I wasn’t concerned with the nominal award.

    That’s just to say I will never deal with Yahoo again.

    Scoble!!!

    In better news, I did some snooping at Apple:
    http://jobs.apple.com/index.ajs?BID=1&method=mExternal.showJob&RID=4721&CurrentPage=3

    “Join a new high powered team within IMG to develop a cross platform web browser plugin for interactive media. You will be solving problems in performance, resource management, and scalability across radically different hardware and software architectures. Bring to bear your knowledge of video and audio processing and interactivity from the desktop to embedded devices implemented in C and various assembler languages.”

    Why won’t Apple make an announcement on Flash support???
    Why? Why? Why?

    Because they’re building their own flash/silverlight in Xcode. TBR shortly after the iPhone.

    I broke it you better give me credit. I rulez!
    Suck it Steve Jobs.

  39. One fine day 2 years ago I received a settlement award from Yahoo saying that they had ripped us off unknowingly with Overture for years at a time. I didn’t even claim it because I wasn’t concerned with the nominal award.

    That’s just to say I will never deal with Yahoo again.

    Scoble!!!

    In better news, I did some snooping at Apple:
    http://jobs.apple.com/index.ajs?BID=1&method=mExternal.showJob&RID=4721&CurrentPage=3

    “Join a new high powered team within IMG to develop a cross platform web browser plugin for interactive media. You will be solving problems in performance, resource management, and scalability across radically different hardware and software architectures. Bring to bear your knowledge of video and audio processing and interactivity from the desktop to embedded devices implemented in C and various assembler languages.”

    Why won’t Apple make an announcement on Flash support???
    Why? Why? Why?

    Because they’re building their own flash/silverlight in Xcode. TBR shortly after the iPhone.

    I broke it you better give me credit. I rulez!
    Suck it Steve Jobs.

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