David Kenny: I Am Not a Candidate for Yahoo CEO

Timing of His Departure from Akamai a 'Coincidence,' He Says

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We can scratch David Kenny off the list for next Yahoo CEO, despite reports he's campaigning for the job and a speculation-inspiring career move. He is definitely not a candidate for the post, Mr. Kenny tells Ad Age .

David Kenny
David Kenny Credit: Richard Kalvar/Magnum Photos

"As a matter of policy, I do not comment on matters related to Yahoo as a Yahoo director. However, as a personal matter, I want to clarify that I believe Yahoo is a great company with enormous potential, but I am not -- and will not be -- a candidate for the CEO position. I look forward to my continued service on the Yahoo Board of Directors," Mr. Kenny told Ad Age in a statement.

Mr. Kenny, a Yahoo board member, has been the center of soaring speculation that he left his day job as president of Akamai Technologies last week to make himself available to fill the purple portal's open CEO slot.

"The timing is coincidence; people should not draw conclusions about where I'm going next, the consumer internet is a big place," Mr. Kenny said.

After former Yahoo chief executive Carol Bartz was ousted in September, Mr. Kenny's name has been bandied about as a possible replacement. When he left Akamai last week, his parting words -- "I now want to return to my first passion of pursuing emerging opportunities on the consumer Internet" -- were read as a wink-wink, nudge-nudge throwing of his hat into the ring.

Given his experience running a public company, as well as his connections to private equity groups reported to be circling around Yahoo, Mr. Kenny seemed well-positioned to take the job, and he seemed interested. Mr. Kenny, is best known as the architect and eventual seller of mammoth digital agency Digitas to advertising holding company Publicis Groupe for $1.3 billion. Reported Yahoo bidders Blackstone Group advised Publicis on the deal and Hellman & Friedman invested $100 million in Digitas in the late 1990s.

Mr. Kenny also has a lot in common with another former adman, Yahoo Chairman Roy Bostock. Mr. Bostock, too, has a Publicis Groupe connection -- he was chairman of BCom3 Group, Inc. from January 2000 to mid-2001. By spring the next year, the agency group announced a merger with Publicis in a $3 billion deal. At Publicis, Mr. Kenny is said to have gotten to know Mr. Bostock, who is also non-executive vice-chairman of one of Digitas' largest clients, Delta Airlines.

At Publicis, Mr. Kenny was tasked with crafting the digital strategy for the Paris-based ad holding company, which generates $7 billion in global revenue. He helped formed VivaKi, a centralized buying and futures unit within Publicis to unite the company's spending in digital media and forge partnerships with major portals. Mr. Kenny also had a hand in Publicis' 2009 purchase Razorfish from Microsoft for $530 million.

A simultaneous CEO search and sales process are a distraction to Yahoo as it attempts to rebuild its display advertising business and find new growth areas, such as mobile. Yahoo's third-quarter revenue was down 5% year-over-year and display advertising revenue was flat, even as U.S. display ad spending overall is expected to grow 24% this year, according to eMarketer.

"David Kenny remains a valued member of the Board and we look forward to his continued contributions to the company and its shareholders," said a Yahoo spokesman. "As for potential CEO candidates, it would be inappropriate to comment on who may or may not be a candidate while the search process continues."

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