|By Maureen O'Gara
|January 14, 2009 06:20 AM EST
"Let's give this company some friggin' breathing room."
With those immortal words Carol Bartz, an apparently less-than-popular replacement for her altogether unpopular and incompetent predecessor Jerry Yang, ended her introduction to the press and Wall Street as Yahoo's new CEO Tuesday evening.
She entertained all of three questions from an assembly of hundreds of curiosity seekers before running off to her first management meeting. She wouldn't talk about her plans for Yahoo or whether - as many anticipated - she'll cut a quick deal with Microsoft, which likes her because she was - as CEO of Autodesk - a docile Microsoft ISV.
She may have her own ideas. She thinks the attenuated Yahoo - properly directed - can still "kick some butt."
And by Thursday word was out that Bartz had reservations - that sent Yahoo's stock down - about selling Yahoo search to Microsoft.
Seems she told Yahoo staffers Wednesday that her "gut instinct" was to hold on to it although she needs to understand the situation better. She said nothing about essentially "renting" it and about playing coy. She's reportedly talked to Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer "informally" right after her appointment and is due to talk to him again.
Yahoo confirmed Bartz's appointment as Yahoo's new CEO Tuesday night, a move that was anticipated earlier in the day by the Wall Street Journal, which stood on the shoulders of the Dow Jones' All Things Digital blog, which dropped her name as a contender last week (and now says a Microsoft deal could be announced in 10 days).
Bartz - hopefully insincerely - called her predecessor Jerry Yang an "invaluable resource" that she fully expected to take advantage of. She called herself - hopefully sincerely - a "straight shooter" who likes "open communications" (hopefully in upper and lower letters); and called Yahoo - God knows, it's true - a company that "Frankly, could use a bit of management."
She's there she said to turn the place around and called any debate over her lack of media credentials "nonsense" - there are plenty of people around who can teach her media - she's a quick enough study, she said. She may be overconfident.
Like the deus ex machina in the John Ford film "The Quiet Man," there's apparently not enough room in the Yahoo kitchen for two women. While Yang is staying, Yahoo president and CEO hopeful Sue Decker, who is closely connected with Yang, will leave after a transition period. She will not be replaced.
Bartz has had since December, when she was first approached by Yahoo, to contemplate her unlikely and thankless fate as CEO of the floundering company.
She's not the attention-seeking, panty-showing CEO that Carly Fiorina was; she's much more like the "fish or cut bait" staff-cutting HP CEO Mark Hurd, except way prettier.
In the days leading up to her confirmation CNBC made much of the fact that Bartz is 60 and so therefore only an interim CEO. Yet nobody said anything about Terry Semel being 58 when he was named CEO of Yahoo. Apparently some things are different for women. Yet oddly enough, the question didn't seem to come up during Hillary Clinton's confirmation hearing Tuesday as Secretary of State. She's 61.
Bartz is a veteran of Sun, where she was second to then-CEO Scott McNealy, and DEC; and, like Steve Jobs, she is a cancer survivor.
She knows how to grow a software company - when she took over Autodesk in 1992 it was a $250 million company and left it two years ago a $1.25 billion company - but she has little experience of either advertising or the web.
She's on the board of Intel (like Decker), Cisco (like Yang) and NetApp.
Meanwhile, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer gave an interview to the Financial Times the other day and said he thinks it's time for Microsoft to make another run at Yahoo's search business.
A few weeks ago Microsoft, which first offered to buy Yahoo's search business last spring, hired Yahoo's ex-search boss Qi Lu to run its online operations and Ballmer told the FT, "We now have someone in place running our online business, and Yahoo is out looking for a CEO. If a search deal is to be made, it's probably to be made in the interim period for new leaders in both places."
Yang, who was lousy at it, agreed to step down as Yahoo's CEO two months ago. He dismissed all of Microsoft's handsome acquisition offers as Yahoo's stock price sank into the mire. His salvation deal with Google also evaporated and he had to put rebel stockholder Carl Icahn and his henchmen on the Yahoo board.
Yahoo reports its Q4 earnings in the week after next.
Oh, by the way, Bartz is getting a base salary of a million dollars and a total compensation package this year of roughly $19 million to save Yahoo from itself. Expectations are she'll earn every dime she gets.
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