Posted by: Rob Hof on June 25, 2009
I’ll be liveblogging the Yahoo annual meeting this morning at the Santa Clara Marriott in Silicon Valley, network willing. This year’s meeting is sure to have less drama than the last two, when Yahoo was embroiled in management turmoil and, in 2008, in Microsoft’s aborted bid to buy the company. CEO Carol Bartz, coming up on her sixth month as CEO, replacing cofounder Jerry Yang, probably won’t have anything concrete to announce about Yahoo’s strategy, which she’s expected to talk about at an October analyst meeting. The likely lack of specifics, not to mention the unlikelihood of any drama, may explain why there are relatively few shareholders here.
I’ll update this post from the bottom, so keep refreshing for the latest. And you can listen to the Webcast here.
10:00 a.m.: And we’re underway with the usual slick video, with Regis Philbin, yodelers, and so on saying Yahoo about a gazillion times in the process of showing how many different services the company offers. (Regis even called it a search engine.)
"Well, that made me feel good," says Bartz after the video ends. "I'm having a ball."
10:05: She introduces the board, including Yang. Carl Icahn's not here, though, so now we know things will be relatively tame. Top execs take bows too.
The boring business stuff comes first, then Bartz will talk.
10:20: Shareholder Michael Loeb has made a non-binding proposal for "say on pay" and outlines his reasons. Yahoo recommends against it. A shareholder I think I saw at Google's annual meeting recently also recommends no. Somebody else says why not, since it's non-binding anyway: "This is a toothless proposal, it only gives you more information," he says.
10:28: Big surprise, all 12 directors elected. And the say-on-pay proposal goes down to defeat.
10:30: Finally, Bartz is up. Says when Yang asks if she wanted to be CEO, she replied: "You've gotta be kidding." Met him for a glass of wine at his house, says after a half-hour she was hooked. Why? Yahoo's huge online presence. "It's a fantastic, fantastic place."
But what really convinced her: Yahoo's org chart, which was hopelessly complex. She says she knows how to fix that kind of thing.
Two questions were asked of me: What are you going to do about Microsoft? And what does Yahoo stand for?
On Microsoft: If we ever have a deal with Microsoft, it will be announced publicly. Until then, we have nothing to say.
As for what Yahoo is, simple: largest online media company, place where people go for what they're interested in every day.
First thing she did when she arrived: new staff structure to make things simpler. Global infrastructure for all operations. Ari Balogh the tech chief, Hilary Schneider to run North American field operations. Still have a slot open for VP of international. Brought in Elisa Steele as new chief marketing officer, to reinvigorate our brand. "We're working very, very hard on that." Jeff Russakow as senior VP of customer advocacy. Dave Dibble to make operations like data centers run well. And just hired Timothy Morse as chief financial officer, starting July 1, replacing Blake Jorgensen.
10:38: Yahoo's trying to clear out "space debris," which is sites that aren't doing well. We've been looking at sites that we should shut down, sites that we should repair, and perhaps sites that we should outsource.
We're at the end of a whole new design for our home page. You don't need the MyYahoo quite so much (hmm, not so sure about that, as a dedicated MyYahoo user) because you can customize the regular home page. Ran 142 different experiments on the home page with different kinds of people. Same with advertisers.
The other thing that we've been working on is Yahoo Mail. Needs to be more modern, less cluttered, faster.
10:40: Search: We haven't been standing still. We've been doing an incredible amount of work on the search engine, such as Yahoo BOSS (Build your Own Search Service) and SearchMonkey. Still, Bartz quickly moves on to other subjects, which won't convince people Yahoo is really dedicated to search, since she has already sent mixed signals.
Calls out mobile as doing very well.
10:42: On advertisers: Yahoo has a distinct opportunity in this area: We are not just a search company. Also can offer display ads, which allow an emotional reaction. None of us mind ads; we just hate crappy ads. It's very hard to buy online; that's an action item we want to take.
So that's really what we've been up to. I have discovered smart, smart people inside Yahoo who really want to make a difference. We are committed to growing that audience and to be the place where you want to come as your online home.
10:45: Now to Q&A from shareholders:
10:46: Q on business model robustness: Yahoo's stock not doing as well as Google, even old-line media companies like Omnicom. Why does the average Yahoo employee produce about half the revenue of a Google employee? (Missed one question.) Why does Yahoo shy away from breaking out search revenues?
Bartz: We do break out search revenue. It is about half our business.
We have a very different model than Google. Search is algorithmic, it has cleaner process, there are no people in involved in the sales process. We are not "Yahoo/Google." We have a whole other business, display advertising. We don't do exactly the same thing.
Yahoo should be more efficient. Looking at back-end systems. Some of that got away from the company.
10:50: Q: Thank you for taking the attention off Microsoft. It was just embarrassing to the company. Loves Bartz's previous comments that Microsoft would need boatloads of money to do a deal. No question seems to be coming, just comments. One on the old Yahoo Mail interface, which he says many like but which is really slow. "Not acceptable," says Bartz.
The other issue he has is with the Yahoo homepage. Barrage of information, especially on Hollywood news. I'm sick of hearing about those guys with the eight kids. Please stop dumbing down the home page.
Bartz: I'm the same way. If I see another Britney Spears thing, I'm going to throw up. Have an internal "fluffometer." She wants to allow people to declare, "I want all hard news," "I want entertainment." We totally understand the issue.
10:54: Guy wearing sweatshirt reading "Release All Political and Religious Prisoners NOW" rambles about what Yahoo should do in China on civil rights. Bartz shows admirable patience. She defends Yahoo's stance, but says it's tough to accede to everyone's agenda. We have actually done a lot, but it's never enough.
10:58: Q: Is Yahoo's main challenge a better vision or better execution?
Bartz: We already have a vision. We know what we're doing. We don't have a vision problem. We have an execution problem.
Q: Someone from Amnesty International asks about filtering of Internet information in China.
Bartz: I'll make this real simple: Yahoo was not incorporated to fix China. It was incorporated to give people a free flow of information. 10 years ago Yahoo made a mistake, and you can't hold us up as the bad boy forever forever. It is not our job to fix the Chinese government. That's not the mandate our shareholders gave us. (OK, no messing around on that.)
11:03: Guy makes a statement basically defending Yahoo's participation internationally, citing Iran dissidents' use of Internet technologies to protest. Bartz agrees, not surprisingly.
Q: What stops Yahoo from being more successful like Facebook in social networking? Bartz: We're taking a very hard look at many aspects of social. Trying to help people be social inside existing services. Key is to be more seamless with many services and socialize those services more.
11:06: Q: Could Google deal be resurrected? Bartz: No. Can't fight Justice Department, especially now.
Q: What might be done with properties such as Yahoo's stake in China's Alibaba? Bartz: It's really about getting revenue up when the economy comes back. I just ask to give us a chance.
As for Alibaba and other overseas investments: Not so easy to sell because other companies are involved. Not the best idea to sell it because of taxes involved.
11:10: Will you buy newspapers? Bartz: We don't necessarily need to buy newspapers. We have a very good relationship with newspapers, thanks to newspaper consortium where advertising is shared.
And that's it. No fireworks. Even the critics seemed polite. And Bartz perhaps has bought another few months from shareholders to show some results, assuming Microsoft's Steve Ballmer doesn't throw a wrench into the works.