Kara Swisher

Recent Posts by Kara Swisher

The Dark Horse Race for Yahoo’s CEO: Sarin Emerges, but Who Else Fits the Bill?

Earlier this week, in a piece about Yahoo layoffs, BoomTown reiterated the notion that Yahoo would pick its next CEO to replace its current leader Jerry Yang from its own board or else some dark horse CEO candidate, rather than one of the Web’s more high-profile players.

I wrote:

Many would not be surprised if one of these current directors is named to lead Yahoo, even temporarily, and to get a new CEO in place by the New Year (a board priority): John Chapple, Maggie Wilderotter or Frank Biondi Jr.

But a dark horse outside CEO–with the public company experience the board of Yahoo is looking for as its top priority–could emerge.”

The Wall Street Journal raised such a name in a piece today–former Vodafone Group (VOD) CEO Arun Sarin (pictured here).

It’s an intriguing idea, to be sure, and the mobile phone experience is important going forward. (Also interesting is the one-time idea floated of merging Yahoo and Vodafone.)

More to the point, Sarin meets the list of key criteria the board has created, as noted in a previous post I did here:

The board, though, has apparently made a list of six–I have no idea why that is the number chosen–clear criteria for the new leader of Yahoo.

The first is that the candidate have ‘extensive’ experience as the CEO of a public company. Another calls for media and advertising expertise. And mergers and acquisitions experience. Also strategic skills.”

The 54-year-old Sarin fits all that, according to the Journal story; plus he also served on the Cisco (CSCO) board with Yang. He is also quite friendly with the Yahoo (YHOO) co-founder (another important thing, since Yang is sticking around as Chief Yahoo).

While his Vodaphone tenure was not without controversy–apparently, some thought he was too slow to diversify, a major uh-oh for the glacial Yahoo, and a less-than-firm central leader–Sarin did do a lot of turnaround work and has been involved in big acquisitions and cost-cutting.

Sarin also has lots of Silicon Valley experience–he ran InfoSpace (INSP) during the Web 1.0 bubble and was also involved in the troubled joint-investment venture between Accel Partners and Kohlberg Kravis Roberts.

Two more clear uh-ohs to me. But nobody’s perfect, I guess, and stumbles are not necessarily negatives in Silicon Valley–they’re called experience!

In that dark horse vein, sources mention several names like Sarin, who also fit the Yahoo board’s list. One I have mentioned before–Hewlett-Packard (HPQ) exec Todd Bradley–has a similar background at palmOne as CEO, for example.

And here’s another idea (all mine!) for the still-mulling Yahoo board: former Adobe CEO Bruce Chizen (pictured here), who left the media software company after many years, in November, quite abruptly, despite a very good reputation as a leader.

I have no idea why Chizen left Adobe (ADBE). But he is only 52 years old and has lots of acquisition, strategy and cost-cutting and tech experience.

Whatever names are funneling into the final pool, the Journal story noted the selection could be weeks away, although sources I have spoken to close to the situation said Yahoo was trying to move much faster and by year’s end.

That’s a better plan, since Yahoo needs clarity, and soon, in order to decide quickly what to do about both its potential search deal with Microsoft (MSFT) and its merger talks with Time Warner (TWX) online unit AOL.

While the board of directors should spend as much time as it needs to pick the right person, the fact that it has wasted so much time on not doing something about long-term and obvious leadership problems at Yahoo is the clearest sign of its true failure.