31st Jan 2012

Another new CEO for Yahoo!

A few weeks ago Yahoo! hired Scott Thompson as its new CEO. Under Thompson’s predecessor Yahoo! had invested millions in media, on the premise that users wanted the company to bring them original content such as journalism and entertainment. But hiring Thompson, who comes from a solid background in information technology, signals the board’s intention to shift the company’s focus from media to tech and data. 

As a brand Yahoo! has had trouble finding itself, and hiring Thompson as CEO is the latest in a series of identity tryouts the company has undertaken. In a recent conference call with analysts, Thompson addressed the issue of Yahoo!’s indefinite identity when he said that it’s “fundamentally” both a media company and a technology company, and that “we better be darn good at both.”

Thompson told the analysts that Yahoo!’s vast bank of data would be the leverage that would turn the company around. “If you believe data and great technology and great technologists can begin to predict what is in a user’s mind and what they want to do next, having that base of data to start from is a big, big advantage,” he said.

The new CEO spent the first few weeks at Yahoo! meeting with employees, managers and customers. And while he did say he sees user data as the way forward, he’s not going to lay down a detailed program for the future until he has fully assessed the situation at the company.

This is a wise move. There are common challenges that new leaders face during this transitional period. Taking the time now to critically assess the situation will help Thompson to see any issues that are likely to crop up. However, Thompson should remember to keep the balance right between moving too fast and moving too slow. The first 100 days in a new leadership role is a critical time period – and he needs to hit the ground running.

Great leadership is ultimately about setting a clear direction and delivering results. For a company whose identity is unclear setting direction is difficult. Thompson needs to cure Yahoo! of it’s identity crisis – then he can draw up a route map to success guided by key strategic priorities. For a successful first 100 days he must remain focused on these priorities, and deliver results. With enthusiasm we will be watching his progress.

Hilda Goold

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