Beware executives spouting expletives at critics
By Rob Cox
Carol Bartz’s potty mouth may play well in the purple bleacher seats at Yahoo
True, salty language can sometimes be a mark of earthly candor or pugnacious leadership. And frequently such responses are provoked. That was perhaps the case with Bartz. She told Techcrunch founder, and Silicon Valley gadfly, Michael Arrington to “f– off” after he asked if her marketing pitch about Yahoo’s strengths relative to rival Google was “BS.” Still, that’s odd behavior at a voluntary event sponsored by Techcrunch.
There are two main problems with Bartz’s response. First off, any savvy executive operating in the Internet business must surely know how rapidly such an unbuttoned down response is prone to spread like wildfire on the web. Indeed, having just announced a big tie-up with Nokia on the same morning as her intemperate outburst, Bartz should have known someone in the audience would be holding up a cell phone set to video.
But quite apart from the fear of getting caught is the more vexing question of Yahoo’s poor performance, which absolutely does lend itself to saucy questions from shareholders and their quasi-journalistic proxies. Investors have little to show for the $47 million that Yahoo splashed out to bring Bartz from the obscurity of something called Autodesk.
Just do the math. Since she was named to Yahoo’s top job in January 2009, Yahoo stock has rallied around 18 percent, from just above $13 a share to $15.54. Google has risen just over 50 percent. Even the Nasdaq has outpaced Yahoo by more than two times.
If Yahoo weren’t such a dog, Bartz’s knee-jerk response might be acceptable. In light of the seemingly adrift firm’s laggardly performance, however, it smacks of the same kind of desperation that led Enron chief executive Jeffrey Skilling to call Highfields Capital’s Richard Grubman an “a–hole” in April 2001 for questioning the soon-to-go-bust firm’s financials.
Shooting the messenger is never a sign of strength. More often it is a sign of an executive — or perhaps even a German chancellor — trying to change the subject.
(Editing by David Evans)