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January 17, 2012

The Yin and Jerry Yang at Yahoo!: Co-founder Exits to Pursue Other Interests

By Peter Bernstein, Senior Editor

In breaking news, Yahoo! Co-Founder and Board Member Jerry Yang (News - Alert) today resigned from all of the positions he holds at the company, according to a Wall Street Journal report. A lightening rod for shareholder discontent, Yang said in his letter of resignation:

“My time at Yahoo!, from its founding to the present, has encompassed some of the most exciting and rewarding experiences of my life. However, the time has come for me to pursue other interests outside of Yahoo! As I leave the company I co-founded nearly 17 years ago, I am enthusiastic about the appointment of Scott Thompson as Chief Executive Officer and his ability, along with the entire Yahoo! leadership team, to guide Yahoo! into an exciting and successful future.”

Yahoo! Chairman Roy Bostock at least managed this surprise appropriately issuing a perfunctory statement saying:

“Jerry Yang is a visionary and a pioneer, who has contributed enormously to Yahoo! during his many years of service,” said Bostock. “It has been a pleasure to work with Jerry. His unique strategic insights have been invaluable. He has always remained focused on the best interests of Yahoo!’s (News - Alert) stakeholders, including shareholders, employees and more than 700 million users. And while I and the entire Board respect his decision, we will miss his remarkable perspective, vision and wise counsel. On behalf of the Board, we thank Jerry and wish him all the very best in his future endeavors.”

 “We appreciate Jerry’s comments and share his enthusiasm for the company’s prospects,” Bostock added. “With Scott Thompson leading an outstanding team of Yahoos to deliver innovative products and an engaging customer experience, Yahoo!’s future is bright.”

And, so concludes an interesting chapter in the Yahoo! saga. 

Opposites do not attract

In Asian philosophy, the concept of yin and yang describes how opposites are interconnected and inter-dependent and give rise to each other. While Mr. Yang’s departure may seem like a voluntary action, it harkens back to the old Groucho Marx remark, “I don't care to belong to a club that accepts people like me as members.” 

Yang has been the subject of extreme displeasure from activist investors who have believed for some time that his poor strategic judgment and sometimes over-expansive mouth have caused a significant diminution of shareholder value, and that he and his fans on the Yahoo! board of directors need to be replaced. His departure, and the Yahoo! widely rumored but unconfirmed search for new directors, certainly gives new CEO Scott Thompson some maneuverability to not only right wrongs but move quickly to makes significant tactical as well as strategic changes.

As I noted when Mr. Thompson was appointed, I still have Yahoo! as my home page thanks to a chance encounter with Mr. Yang when he started the company. Whether fresh blood can breathe new life into Yahoo! is an open question. Mr. Yang made more than his fair share of mistakes, and Yahoo! seems to be in need of a lot more Yin and now a lot less Yang. 

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Peter Bernstein is a technology industry veteran, having worked in multiple capacities with several of the industry's biggest and best known brands, and has served on the Advisory Boards of 15 technology startups. To read more of Peter's work, please visit his columnist page.

Edited by Carrie Schmelkin
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