In November 2010, Ross Levinsohn joined Yahoo as exec VP-Americas during one of the rockiest stretches in the once-great internet company's history. Fast-forward 11 months, and things have gone from bad to worse, with shrinking display-ad market share, a general lack of vision and the recent ouster of CEO Carol Bartz.
But Mr. Levinsohn is the internal candidate with the best chance of shaping a positive future for Yahoo, whether he continues in his current role or becomes Ms. Bartz's successor, as some suggest may happen if the company isn't sold.
The digital-media vet is no stranger to a restless work environment, having presided over News Corp.'s Fox Interactive Media unit, where he oversaw acquisitions and integrations of internet properties, including MySpace. He then spent several years investing in promising ad platforms and properties.
Now his task is monumental at a company whose morale Mr. Levinsohn himself described as just "OK." Yahoo's reach is still enormous -- 177.5 million unique visitors in August, according to ComScore -- but Mr. Levinsohn concedes that scale is not enough to secure advertising success. "Our aspiration is to be the best partner we can be with advertisers and agencies. Candidly, we have a little bit of work to do there."
Mr. Levinsohn added: "For me, a big, big, big part of the focus is on how we differentiate ourselves."
In the past two months, that goal has started to take some form: It announced an integration with Facebook in which Yahoo News readers can see which stories Facebook friends are reading; a Yahoo Sports investigation into the University of Miami football team ricocheted around the web; and the company announced a concert to benefit the Bill Clinton Foundation starring Lady Gaga, Usher and Bono will be broadcast live exclusively on Yahoo.
"I don't want to waste this opportunity," he said. "I don't want to look back and say, "Gosh, we had a chance to be innovative and bold, but we just felt comfortable and scared to do something different.'"