What Not to Expect at Yahoo's Annual Meeting Friday

Posted by: Rob Hof on July 31, 2008

Yahoo’s long-delayed annual meeting is finally at hand, after a six-month deal ordeal that has left the Internet portal more or less where it was early this year, before Microsoft’s unsolicited bid. (Minus some market share and a whole lot of managers.) I’ll be there (and you can too via a Webcast), hoping to liveblog it and add more analysis in a story later that evening.

That is, if anything significant happens. More likely, the meeting will be remarkable for what you won’t see there:

1) Carl Icahn. After spending a couple of months castigating Yahoo’s management and board and launching a proxy fight, the activist investor made nice early last week and now declares on his blog: “The proxy fight is over and it will not do shareholders or Yahoo! any good to have the annual meeting turn into a media event for no purpose.” (Oh, why not, Carl?) He continues: “A few days ago, I met with both Jerry Yang and Roy Bostock and I believe both gentlemen genuinely wish that we will be able to work together to enhance value. While we still disagree on many points, I have great hope ‘this will be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.’” Uh-huh. Well, don’t take that claim to the bank, but it’s clear that, at least on Icahn’s account Friday, there won’t be what most of us in the press had hoped for…

2) High drama. Yahoo, quite sensibly, will try its darnedest to drain every bit of strife from the meeting, and mostly will succeed, because it controls the agenda. But not entirely, because also missing from the meeting will be…

3) A crowd of happy shareholders. Clearly, there is no lack of investors who are angry with Yahoo over its moribund stock price and its inability to do a deal with Microsoft despite the software giant’s offer of a 60%-plus premium. And several are expected to get a chance to express that anger during a Q&A session after management presentations. But those shareholders won’t get something else no small number of them are looking for…

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4) Jerry Yang’s departure.
Or the current board’s, for that matter. For the time being, the cofounder and CEO remains in charge, and the board likely will survive, even if the number of “withhold” votes on several directors could come in alarmingly high, and even though Yahoo will add Icahn and two others in a couple of weeks. And while I’m doubtful Yang wants this job indefinitely, there’s no percentage in his stepping down until matters with Icahn settle out and it becomes apparent whether or not Microsoft will return for another round of deal-making. No use in making Yahoo look even weaker and less decisive. Problem is, shareholders also won’t hear much that will convince them Yang and the board yet have what they really want…

5) An obvious solution to Yahoo’s problems. Yang and Decker likely will outline the strategy they’ve been espousing for many months. But while the strategy doesn’t sound bad to many observers, it’s execution that matters, and the pair can’t show that in one day. This is a multi-year job by Yahoo’s own reckoning, and it’s not obvious they have that much time, especially with Google continuing to grow like no company its size should.

Of course, the last few months have shown that almost anything can happen. Indeed, last year’s annual meeting was surprisingly sedate, too. A few days later, the CEO, Terry Semel, was gone.

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BusinessWeek writers Peter Burrows, Cliff Edwards, Olga Kharif, Aaron Ricadela, Douglas MacMillan, and Spencer Ante dig behind the headlines to analyze what’s really happening throughout the world of technology. One of the first mainstream media tech blogs, Tech Beat covers everything from tech bellwethers like Apple, Google, and Intel and emerging new leaders such as Facebook to new technologies, trends, and controversies.

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