In a piece of good news, Yahoo finally got rid of Carol Bartz. She had been brought in to turn around the ailing company, one-time icon of the Internet about which it was said (including, supposedly, to the Google founders), “search is over.” Unfortunately, the situation never improved, and it seemed clear for many, at least on the outside, that she wasn’t going to be the one to save it. The market appears to have agreed, as shares rose 6% on the news of her firing.
At the same time, what a piece of unprofessional behaviour all of this was. The Board fired her… by phone. Yes, by phone. When you need to lay someone off or fire them, unless time is of the essence and they are too far away to reach in time, or there are legal implications, you do it in person. You do it in person not because you love them; you actually may hate them. You do it for four reasons: because (a) it is the right (“mentschlach” is the phrase in Yiddish) thing to do; (b) you never know where and when you will work with them again; (c) you want to ensure they leave in a way that has no negative impact; and most importantly of all, (d) it is the right thing to do.
I once worked with a guy who flew from New York to London, overnight, to lay one person off, then turned around and came back home. He could have found a reason not to spend all of that money, and not be away from his family, but it was the right thing to do. I knew another who laid off people by phone from New York to Boston – all of a 4 hour train or car ride or one hour plane ride – because he couldn’t bear to look them in the face. He was a colleague of mine… and my respect for him never recovered; I can only imagine how the people he got rid of felt.
I suspect the Board also couldn’t bear to look Bartz in the eye, primarily because the failure of Bartz is the failure of those who hired her, the Board. People like Roy Bostock, David Kenny and Brad Smith should know better.
But it sounds like Bartz deserved her peers. Apparently, shortly after being fired she sent an email to the entire Yahoo staff saying, “I am very sad to tell you that I’ve just been fired over the phone by Yahoo’s Chairman of the Board.” The manner in which she was fired did not need to be broadcast, and sounds very much like an emotional, “well back at you!”
The lack of professionalism on both sides, based on press accounts, is astounding.
Yahoo is one of the all-time great Internet companies, and as much as it has been totally eclipsed by its competitors, it appears its own missteps have done it far more damage.
Roy, Jerry, the rest of the Board: you need a real strategy for this company, not some Knight in Shining Silicon Armour. Work as a Board, work hard, bring in whoever you need to help you do your job – I can recommend some good full-timers and consultants – set a strategy, and then hire the best person to execute it. But stop looking for the Messiah.