4 Tech CEOs Teetering After Bartz

-- Updated with stock move and potential Yahoo! breakup strategy.

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- With Carol Bartz out at Yahoo! ( YHOO), the list of CEOs on the brink shrinks to four.

Tumultuous markets, slumping sales and stalled turnaround strategies put a lot of pressure on CEOs. And as Bartz ouster showed, it's only a matter of time until the board decides to shake things up.
Carol Bartz

Bartz's nearly three year run as Yahoo! chief came to an end Tuesday when she received a call from Yahoo! chairman Roy Bostock, who apparently told her it was time for a change. CFO Tim Morse takes over on an interim basis until the board finds a permanent replacement.

Wall Street cheered the move. Yahoo! shares, which rose as much as 7% cooled slightly but were still trading up 4% Wednesday on the news and the potential breakup strategy for the stumbling `Net giant.

How jazzed were investors by Bartz removal? Yahoo's market cap jumped by more than $1 billion immediately following the news.

After a hopeful start, Bartz had lost some of her gruff charm. Bartz may eventually be remembered for the fact that she ran Yahoo! while the company sat on the sidelines during the social media and mobile Internet boom.

But Bartz isn't alone.

There are other tech titans that have struggled to meet market challenges and, in some cases, have driven businesses off course.

Here are four other tech CEOs in the hot seat who may get a similar call from their boards. The ranking is in order of stock declines for the year.

No. 4: Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer

Key misstep: Failing in mobile as Apple ( AAPL) and Google ( GOOG) ran away with the show.

Stock performance: Microsoft is down 8% so far this year.

As chronicled here, Microsoft's ( MSFT) Ballmer has had a few major blunders during his 11 years as CEO. But the impatience started to get loud in March, when big investor Greenlight Capital's David Einhorn publicly urged Microsoft to replace its CEO.

Under Ballmer, Microsoft launched the successful Xbox video game unit and delivered a very competent Windows 7 operating system. But Ballmer may be better known for the Windows Vista fiasco and letting the smartphone revolution slip through his hands.

Ballmer has certainly been seen more favorably after Nokia ( NOK) and Microsoft struck a deal to make an entire generation of smartphones using the Windows 7 operating system. Should that venture fail to take off, Ballmer may not have many more cards to play.

No. 3: Cisco CEO John Chambers

Key misstep: Plunged into consumer goods, neglected the core business.

Stock performance: Cisco is down 24% this year.

Cisco's ( CSCO) has had huge accomplishments during John Chambers' 16-year tenure as CEO, not the least of which was the phenomenal sales growth from $2 billion when he started in 1995 to the $40 billion the networking giant pulled in last year.

But Chambers, in the hunt for new growth, took Cisco down some questionable paths -- Flip video cameras, Linksys home WiFi routers. Chambers has since acknowledged the problems and has vowed to cut the distractions.

The company is going through a deep cut, eliminating 11,000 jobs through firings, buyouts and the sale of its cable box manufacturing plant in Juarez. One factor in Chambers' favor is that the spending slowdown that Cisco ran into late last year is now being felt more widely across the sector. This has made Cisco's problems less about Chambers and more about the business environment overall.

No. 2: HP CEO Leo Apotheker

Key misstep: Failed to win Wall Street's confidence.

Stock performance: HP is down 44% this year.

Wall Street was a little leery of Leo Apotheker when he arrived at HP ( HPQ), and it loathed him after he proposed a breakup of the company and a spinoff of its leading PC business.

The move, which borrows conspicuously from IBM's ( IBM) playbook, would position the hardware shop as more of a services and software operation akin to SAP ( SAP) or Oracle ( ORCL). While bold moves may be necessary at HP, the proposal to exit PCs has helped curb the buying appetite of HP's big customers.

HP hired Leo Apotheker in September as a take-charge leader to fill the shoes of Mark Hurd, who was booted as part of an ethics scandal. But after almost a year of making little imprint on the company, Apotheker has now lit a fuse for its dismantling.

No. 1: RIM co-CEOs Jim Balsillie and Mike Lazaridis

Key misstep: Staying the course too long.

Stock performance: RIM has dropped 46% this year so far.

The power duo at Research In Motion ( RIMM) proves that sometimes it takes two people to thoroughly mess up a good thing. The company's first-quarter earnings call helped illustrate how well the executives divided their duties and just how far out of orbit their collective thought capsule had drifted.
Mike Lazaridis

RIM's BlackBerry was instrumental in the birth of the smartphone era. And the company managed to spread the trend beyond its business user core to teens and a broader consumer market in Europe.

But when smarter touchscreen phones from Apple and Google came along, RIM misjudged the threat. Balsillie defended the BlackBerry's simplicity about two years ago, calling it "just a small task handler."

RIM's new BlackBerry Bold arrived at stores last week. Unfortunatley, the phone is two years late and only a placeholder until the new QNX devices arrive next year.

If Bartz' firing is any guide, Balsillie and Lazaridis may not be around long enough to witness the QNX-fueled RIM revival.

--Written by Scott Moritz in New York.

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