Yahoo's New Chief Is an Unknown to Media, Ad Circles

Carol Bartz to Visit Clients Tomorrow as Industry Weighs in on Her Appointment

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NEW YORK ( -- There are a few things to know about Yahoo's new CEO, Carol Bartz.

Carol Bartz
Carol Bartz
For one, in her 14 years as CEO of Autodesk, a firm that creates specialized software for the architectural and manufacturing industries, she grew it from a $300 million company to a $1.5 billion one. For another, she doesn't actually have any media and advertising background -- or real strong internet credentials. And she's not worried about that. Third, she's moving into a company that hasn't really had a strong, operating CEO in quite some time, but if her first public comments are anything to judge by, there is little doubt she's in charge.

Sue Decker out
Ms. Bartz, announced as Yahoo CEO this afternoon, takes over for co-founder Jerry Yang, who returns to his role as "chief Yahoo." President Sue Decker, who had been an internal candidate for the CEO job, will leave the company after a transition.

Ms. Bartz described herself as a "straight shooter." Yahoo, she said, is an "enormous asset that frankly could use a little management." She called it a great company for the long run, a clear move to dispel any rumors that she's being brought in to break it up and sell it.

She'll start speaking to Yahoo customers tomorrow, she said, which is a good thing because few in the media and advertising industry, which accounts for the majority of Yahoo's revenue, know who Ms. Bartz is.

It's easy to see this as the final word on the long-simmering debate around whether Yahoo is a media company or a technology firm. Her appointment would seem to imply the latter and comes just a month after Microsoft appointed former Yahoo technology veteran Qi Lu to lead its online services business over Brian McAndrews, the former aQuantive CEO who was well-known and respected in the advertising business. With Ms. Decker's departure, several media execs suggested Yahoo should be looking at hiring a new No. 2 who would be steeped in the media and marketing business.

"On the media vs. [technology] tack, I think that's a lot of nonsense," Ms. Bartz said. "I didn't know [computer-assisted drafting] when I joined Autodesk. I didn't know hardware when I joined Sun. I'm a technology-driven person, a market-driven person. I love customers. So I suspect I have a little brain power to learn what it takes to understand media and, more importantly, I expect there are fantastic people here, in the company as well as on the board, who can help jumpstart my education."

Well if she wants to start now, the industry had a few words of advice for her.

'Obsessed with Google'
"My view, as it's always been, is that Yahoo has pretty much the biggest potential reach as a brand builder of all of the digital-media platforms," said Rob Norman, CEO of Group M Interaction, one of Yahoo's biggest media buyers. "But they've been somewhat obsessed with Google and advertising as a math problem. They should concentrate on their brand-building assets."

Bryan Wiener, CEO of 360i, agreed that Yahoo has great assets -- and that its search and display businesses are what makes it unique. But, he notes, "they've been unsuccessful in positioning them as a single entity. That needs to start from the top."

Matt Naeger, exec VP-operations at search marketing firm Impaqt, said gaining search market share among consumers is going to be an uphill battle but Yahoo could start gaining market share in terms of picking up marketer's dollars by improving search targeting and basing it on the valuable profile and behavioral data it has on users.

"Would I pay more for someone who's visited a review site in my category in last 30 days?" Mr. Naeger asked. "I'd be willing to pay more for that and Yahoo would have more of that info than any of its competitors."

Need someone to execute ideas
The biggest problem is not a lack of ideas at Yahoo, said several media execs, but lack of execution. "You need someone screaming at the meetings -- this is about getting it done, not just coming up with good ideas," said Mike Leo, CEO of Operative.

In what is perhaps a good sign, Ms. Bartz exhibited a bit of feistiness when she referred to how Yahoo has been battered in the public markets and the press over the past year.

"This is about creating new markets, whether geographic or vertical markets and really get outward-looking and kick some butt," she said. Later she revisited the subject. "Let's give this company some friggin' breathing room. It's been too crazy, everybody on the outside deciding what Yahoo should do or shouldn't do. That's going to stop."

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