Yahoo Founder Jerry Yang Resigns From Company's Board

Founder Came to Represent Yahoo's Inability to Move On From Its Glory Days

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Jerry Yang
Jerry Yang Credit: Paul Sakuma

Jerry Yang, the co-founder of Yahoo who grew the company into an Internet darling in the late '90s only to see it lose much of its luster over the last decade, has resigned from Yahoo's board of directors, the company announced in a press release today. Mr. Yang also resigned from the boards of Yahoo Japan and Alibaba, of which Yahoo owns a stake.

"My time at Yahoo, from its founding to the present, has encompassed some of the most exciting and rewarding experiences of my life," a company press release quoted Mr. Yang as writing in a letter to the board. "However, the time has come for me to pursue other interests. ... I am enthusiastic about the appointment of Scott Thompson as chief executive officer and his ability, along with the entire leadership team, to guide Yahoo into an exciting and successful future."

Mr. Thompson, a former PayPal exec, became CEO earlier this month after a four-month search to replace the ousted Carol Bartz. Over the same period, Yahoo's board has been meeting with suitors about selling off parts of the business.

The board has been under fire from shareholders over the past few years as its core display-ad business grew stagnant, even as Google and Facebook's ad businesses soared. Yahoo has also suffered from a lack of identity: Is it a tech company or a media company? In his first press conference as CEO, Mr. Thompson said it will be both.

Mr. Yang co-founded the company in 1995 with David Filo and took it public in 1996. With Mr. Filo in the background, Mr. Yang was the public face of the company, which turned a collection of web links into what was at one time the world's largest search engine and Internet portal, the first truly global web-media company. He served as CEO from mid-2007 to January 2009, a tumultuous period that followed the firing of CEO Terry Semel.

More than an executive, Mr. Yang was a powerful symbol for employees, even as Yahoo's fortunes started to slip. But his presence during repeated failed attempts to reinvent the company meant that he was associated with its inability to evolve from its storied past.

"They looked up to Jerry ," said David Karnstedt, general manager of Adobe Advertising Solutions, who led North American sales for Yahoo through much of the last decade. "If he was there, things were OK, because he was an inspirational guy. He was more than a symbolic presence -- he was the connectivity that caused many people to stick around."

As a founder, Mr. Yang was reluctant to sell Yahoo to any suitor, including Microsoft, which in February 2008 offered to buy Yahoo for $31 a share, a 62% premium over its closing price on Jan. 31 of that year. The move looks disastrous for investors in light of what has happened since. Yahoo shares were up 3% in after-hours trading on Tuesday, to $15.90.

Mr. Yang's resignation probably won't be the last. AllthingsD's Kara Swisher is reporting that several other Yahoo board members are expected to step down in the coming weeks.

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