Monday, January 19, 2009

Search Insider: Rooting For Yahoo's Bartz

Rooting For Yahoo's Bartz

TELL ME SOMETHING: WHEN WAS the last time you rooted for Google?  

When was the last time you thought of the search giant with a benevolent smile, wanted to ruffle its hair, or felt generous about forgiving its trespasses because, after all, it means well?

That is, after all, how we started our relationship with them. We were all charmed. They were so cute, so clever, so... not evil.

But the luster has worn thin, replaced by stories about how long they should retain cookies or whether searches should be legally admissible evidence.

Google is a great company. Its problem is that it's gotten too big to root for. What would you root for it to do? Get a larger search share? Grow more? Make more money? (Note: Shareholders rooting for the stock price to return to the $700 stratosphere don't count.)

But if we're not rooting for Google, our movie-loving culture needs a new hero, and I vote for Yahoo's new CEO Carol Bartz. Yes, I know Bartz is a person and Google is a company, but just work with me here, alright?

Why Bartz? Here are three reasons:

She's an underdog in an underdog role. Yeah, I know it's clichéd to root for the underdog, but I can't help it. And the Financial Times calling her "safe but uninspired" only reinforces my desire to see her succeed.

She's a person, not a soundbite. I base that assessment on this soundbite: "More than anything, let's give this company some frickin' breathing room. It's been too crazy -- everybody on the outside deciding what Yahoo should do, shouldn't do, what's best for them. That's going to stop."

I don't think anyone can argue with the need to give Yahoo some breathing room. It will, on the other hand, be completely impossible for Bartz to stop people on the outside from deciding what the company should do; Steven Shankland over at CNet has already outlined a suggested 6-point strategy in an open letter to her. What she can -- and, I suspect, will -- do is decide how much attention the company pays to all those armchair quarterbacks.

She understands what she's there for. Culturally speaking, Yahoo has been a disaster: unclear strategy, exodus of talent, mixed messages, and infighting. And Bartz seems well-equipped to stop that bad behavior in its tracks. According to a CNNMoney profile in 2004 (via Silicon Alley Insider), she made her focus at AutoDesk clear as soon as she arrived: "I'm not here to appease anyone. I'm here to build a business." Let's hope she's got the same approach at Yahoo.

At the same time, she's got her priorities straight:


At (an AutoDesk employee meeting in 2004), she insists, "We are not a fluke." The company's current run, she says, is the start of a great new phase, not a final act. Then, raising her voice, she says, "We've got to believe in ourselves. Because if we believe, there's no stopping us." The room grows silent. Bartz's smile fades. She's getting serious. "So you'll hear this in the coming months: Do you believe? Over and over. Until you come up to me and say, 'I believe."'


These are the ingredients of our hero: someone who has the skill but who has the odds stacked against them. Someone who is willing to give everything to succeed. Someone who is willing to cut through the internal cultural clutter, setting the necessary course without regard to petty politics, and then inspiring the team to make it work.

Good luck, Carol. I'm rooting for you!

Kaila Colbin blogs for VortexDNA, whose technology can improve relevance for search engines, ecommerce sites, or any other recommendation service.

Search Insider for Monday, January 19, 2009:

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