Yahoo! cofounder Jerry Yang
Yahoo! cofounder Jerry Yang suddenly exited his struggling company Tuesday, setting off speculation about the timing and giving Yahoo! stock a small bump. Widely considered ineffectual and detrimental to Yahoo!'s chances of survival, Yang perhaps clung too tightly to the company he helped found with David Filo in 1995.
"My time at Yahoo!, from its founding to the present, has encompassed some of the most exciting and rewarding experiences of my life," Mr. Yang wrote to the board of directors that was poised to remove him from his position of (ugh) "Chief Yahoo!". "However, the time has come for me to pursue other interests outside of Yahoo! As I leave the company I cofounded nearly 17 years ago, I am enthusiastic about the appointment of Scott Thompson as Chief Executive Officer and his ability, along with the entire Yahoo! leadership team, to guide Yahoo! into an exciting and successful future."
Described by his company as a "visionary and a pioneer," Yang was also personally responsible for Yahoo!'s recent troubles. He nixed a lucrative $47.5 billion purchase of Yahoo! by Microsoft in 2008 and then watched helplessly as the value of the company dwindled to less than half that. Not coincidentally, perhaps, his exit from Yahoo! comes during an internal strategic review of the company's operations. It's likely that Yang's dueling interests as both a Yahoo! figurehead and major holder of company stock led to some uneasy feelings about his ability unemotionally to do the right thing for Yahoo!
One commonly held theory is that Yang's vision for Yahoo! worked well when the company was small and Internet-era growth came easily. But once the company grew to enormous proportions, Yang was unable to handle the responsibilities and pressure of leading this much bigger company. Allen Weiner, a Gartner analyst, told the New York Times that Yang's Yahoo! was "a stumbling organization."
In an indication of how much has changed over the years, Yahoo! really began life in 1994 as an online directory called "Jerry and Dave's Guide to the World Wide Web." It was renamed Yahoo! a year later and incorporated. In the early days of the web, getting a link in this directory was considered a major boon to site traffic. Though widely known as a search company for some reason—Yahoo! actually farms out web search, currently to Microsoft—it's really more of an amorphous web portal and, even more vaguely, an "Internet brand."
And that's part of the problem: Yahoo! has struggled for much of the past several years trying to find a concrete identity and, worse, monetizing its copious traffic. And now that's a problem that new CEO Scott Thompson will need to address.