Why Sue Decker isn’t CEO of Yahoo…

The three inventors of DTrace at Sun Microsystems

So, just before interviewing Sun Microsystems’ DTrace team today (that’s a photo of them) I got a call from a source. He said “Semel is out. Yang is taking over.” This is why I am not a good journalist. I didn’t drop everything, tell the three geeks to hang on while I banged out a post, etc. Instead I went on with the interview, which was a lot of fun. It’s so nice to interview geeks who make things that transform businesses instead of marketing executives. Instead you’ll have to read the news reports and media storm over at TechMeme.

In case you’re wondering, that’s Bryan Cantril (right); Mike Shapiro (middle); Adam Leventhal, the three inventors of DTrace. Bryan’s wife gave birth to a baby boy yesterday afternoon which is why the three had cigars. More about DTrace and this team here.

Anyway, why isn’t Sue Decker the CEO of Yahoo? Because there are three separate constituencies that need a CEO at Yahoo.

1) Advertisers. They are very unhappy. I’ve talked with search engine marketers who do work for clients who take out thousands of ads on search engines and they tell me that Google’s service is easier to use than Yahoo’s and brings better results. They are customer #1 for Yahoo and explains why Semel is on the way out, why the stock price is flat, and why Decker isn’t CEO today. She simply hasn’t gotten the job done with the Panama platform that Yahoo/Semel/Decker were hoping it would be.
2) Geeks. Yahoo is losing geeks. Datacenter geeks. Networking geeks. Software geeks who’ll build the next cool search engines at Yahoo, etc. As I do more and more interviews I meet more and more people who tell me “I used to work at Yahoo.” It’s been a while since I’ve heard of a geek who’s done something the world respects end up at Yahoo. Even Yahoo’s good social media acquisition team has been quiet this year. I don’t remember meeting Sue Decker while hanging out at geek events. Maybe she gets along with developers, but the performance of Panama tells me she isn’t able to get the best from teams of developers.
3) Media types. You know, movie studios, vloggers, musicians, game designers, etc. This was Semel’s strong suit, except Semel, from what I’ve heard from several people, could barely type his own emails so didn’t quite enthuse the geekier of the creative types. I’m not sure how strong Sue Decker would be with this group, but I doubt it’d be strong. Musicians and folks like movie director Robert Rodriguez rarely get along with people who run advertising divisions at big companies.

I’d love to be wrong, though. Tell me why Sue would be a good leader to any of these three groups?

What’s really bad for Yahoo, though, is there isn’t a good CEO out there that’ll come in and be a quick fix for Yahoo’s problems. I think Jerry Yang will have to hire a CEO out of the advertising industry, since that’s where Yahoo is bleeding the most right now. The money is the main artery and that comes from ads at Yahoo. Geeks like Stewart Butterfield or Caterina Fake won’t be able to patch that up.

Unfortunately I don’t know of a good CEO for Yahoo right now. Who would I suggest? How about Clare Hart, vice president of Dow Jones?

The other lesson I take out of today’s news? Panama (Yahoo’s new advertising platform designed to compete with Google) is a failure. If it weren’t, Semel would be walking on water right now. That’s the real reason why Sue Decker isn’t in the CEO spot right now.

UPDATE: Jerry Yang (Yahoo’s temporary CEO) in his blog post, says that Panama had a “successful launch.” That’s not what I’m hearing from customers who buy lots of ads. It’ll be interesting to see what the next quarter’s numbers are.