I quickly got a response from tech blogger Om Malik wondering whether Ross had really done that much: "
And what exactly is he doing except got the Asian equity selloff. Let's judge him in a year, not in days."
When I responded I thought that was a fair point but the leaked strategy to
looked like the best I'd seen from Yahoo! since 2006, Om countered: "
Leaked strategy is a plan to appease angry investors. Now let's see how well it is executed. Talk is cheap, inaction expensive."
Now, I'll be the first to agree with Om that being a Yahoo! shareholder over about three of those last six years has been extremely frustrating for me. So, I'm very sympathetic to the notion that we'll only be able to truly judge Ross at least after a few quarters are under his belt.
However, I stand by my assertion that I haven't been this excited about the direction Yahoo! is taking in -- well -- never.
So, first let's review the things that have happened since Ross took over that he likely had nothing to do with:
The Alibaba deal. There's no way that Ross could be hired on a Sunday, get himself involved in negotiating the deal and have it agreed to a week later. Kara Swisher of AllThingsD has already reported that Ross wasn't really in the discussions. I've also talked to someone familiar with the talks who said the deal agreed to by both sides was essentially the deal that Tim Morse and Mike Callahan had been working on for Yahoo! when Scott Thompson was still in the picture. Ross credited them on the conference call announcing the deal.
Yahoo! Axis. It's Yahoo!'s new iOS browser released last week -- and it looks good. But it's been in the works for a while.
Cutting Livestand. Yahoo! quietly announced it was killing its competitor for Flipboard after six months. This was probably on the schedule to be cut, but Ross might have had the final say.
Yet, what has Ross accomplished in his short tenure in charge of Yahoo!?
There's clearly improved morale at the company. Partly this is because Thompson and his resume-cloud are gone. But it's also unquestionably because people like Ross. Ross is someone who is great at schmoozing without making you feel like he's insincere. He's great at connecting with people. He's likeable and trustworthy.
There are clearly some people outside the company who are finally saying some positive things about Yahoo! -- both people in the industry as well sell-side analysts. With the number of people saying Ross was an obvious choice to take over as CEO, it makes you wonder why he wasn't considered more seriously for the job last December.
The last "accomplishment" you can point to in his short time on the job is
a leaked strategy to
. This might not have even come from Ross, but from someone near Ross who's chatty. This is the plan in brief:
Short term: Quiet the Thompson noise, talk to Facebook about patents, talk to Microsoft about search, and stay close to Third Point's Dan Loeb.
Medium term: Be the world's premier digital media company, figure out what to do with its ad technology, sell its stake in Yahoo! Japan.
Long term: Make Yahoo! relevant by getting into mobile, double down on Finance and Sports, more original video for premium ads, and do acquisitions.
CEO and a former Yahoo! exec,
tweeted after he read the strategy: "One of best articles on Yahoo's strategy I've read in a long time."
Is it perfect and did
Nicholas Carlson capture it 100% accurately? Probably not. But you get the gist, and it's completely in line with Ross' comments that he's made over at least the past year, so it certainly sounds credible. I disagree with Om that this plan was leaked to appease investors. At this point, with Loeb getting representation on the board, investors have been satisfied.
What will further satisfy investors from here will be announcements (like the Alibaba deal) and not a leaked plan from Ross -- so why do it?
Should we wait a few more weeks and months before crowning Ross a success? Of course. However, I think it's important to realize that things finally seem to be moving in the right direction at the company.
The old crusty members of the board have left the building. Ross has good internal and external support and certainly low expectations. This plan seems on target, mostly because it helps to define a path for Yahoo! that's differentiated from
or Facebook that seems to have a reasonably high chance of success.
If I worked at Yahoo! and I was going to go out and try to recruit the best sales stars or technical talent to the team, I'd say: "We're doing great things here. Advertisers like us and want us to succeed. We've shot ourselves in the foot repeatedly in the last seven years, and yet our users keep coming back. So imagine if we actually get our act together? Finally, which company has a reasonable chance to double their stock in the next couple of years? Yahoo!, Google, or Facebook?"
Good things are cooking in Sunnyvale and Santa Monica.
At the time of publication, Eric Jackson was long YHOO.
Eric Jackson is founder and Managing Member of Ironfire Capital and the general partner and investment manager of Ironfire Capital US Fund LP and Ironfire Capital International Fund, Ltd. In January 2007, Jackson started the world's first Internet-based campaign to increase shareholder value at Yahoo!, leading to a change in CEOs in 2007. He also spoke out in favor of Yahoo!'s accepting Microsoft's buyout offer in 2008. Global Proxy Watch named Jackson as one of its 10 "Stars" who positively influenced international corporate governance and shareowner value in 2007.
Prior to founding Ironfire Capital, Jackson was President and CEO of Jackson Leadership Systems, Inc., a leadership, strategy, and governance consulting firm. He completed his Ph.D. in the Management Department at the Columbia University Graduate School of Business in New York, with a specialization in Strategic Management and Corporate Governance, and holds a B.A. from McGill University.
He was previously Vice President of Strategy and Business Development at VoiceGenie Technologies, a software firm now owned by Alcatel-Lucent. In 2004, Jackson founded the Young Patrons' Circle at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, which is now the second-largest social and philanthropic group of its kind in North America, raising $500,000 annually for the museum. You can follow Jackson on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ericjackson or @ericjackson.
You can contact Eric by emailing him at email@example.com.