Beware executives spouting expletives at critics

By Rob Cox
May 25, 2010

By Rob Cox

Carol Bartz’s potty mouth may play well in the purple bleacher seats at Yahoo , the demoralized Internet business she runs. But investors should be wary of executives spouting expletives at critics – even the pain-in-the-neck blogger that Bartz addressed Monday with an F-bomb. As Enron’s Jeff Skilling can attest, there’s a fine line between robust discourse and shooting the messenger. Bartz looks to have just crossed it.

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)


We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see

A corporate type, Joe Biden or Rahm Emanuel? Is there a difference in the expectation of decent personal conduct? Oh hell no! F— them and f- the president and f-you if you don’t like it. Is that the leadershp of a country on the rise or one in decline? I think the latter. The above language was use for impact not because I am unable to think of a better method of expressing myself.

Posted by sandiego1969 | Report as abusive

“Bartz’s knee-jerk response” The guy opened the interview with “how the f&%k are you?” and you think her response was knee-jerk? It’s really sweet that you bloggers are so used to log rolling that you can come to a fellow bloggers defense when someone gets sick of your arrogance, ignorance and poor taste. My only problem with Carol was her sticking around past Arrington’s stupid opening and not kicking him in the nuts on the way out.

Posted by IrisHeyes | Report as abusive

maybe the customer provoked Carol Bartz. Human error, I have seen people do a ton worse and were taken off the hook then thanked for it.

Posted by covertice | Report as abusive

[…] Yahoo’s (YHOO) Carol Bartz dropped the F-bomb in response to a critic, she crossed the line between earthy candor and desperation. Investors […]

Posted by Viral Stash Financial News » When Yahoo’s (YHOO) Carol Bartz dropped the F-bomb in response to a critic, she crossed the line between earthy candor and desperation. Investors should be wary, because "shooting the messenger is never a sign | Report as abusive

Ms Bartz’ fluent grasp of Latin and Anglo-Saxon is, I understand, polite coffee-morning Tupperware conversation compared to Mr Blankfein’s recent privately-expressed views about the President. Allegedly.

Posted by nbywardslog | Report as abusive

[…] Bartz’s potty mouth generates ton of attention in blogosphere, but Reuters blogger Rob Cox says investors should be wary of executives who spout expletives at critics. Bartz used some […]

Posted by Market Talk » Blog Archive » Links 5/26/2010 | Report as abusive