Jerry Yang: We're Done

Walt Mossberg just finished interviewing Yahoo CEO Jerry Yang and President Sue Decker (my real time notes are here, see Peter Kafka’s notes as well).

The two key topics of the interview were the failed Microsoft merger, and Yahoo’s core focus as a company. And while Yang never actually said the words quoted in the title above, his tone and body language screamed “We’re Done.” He was resigned. Beleaguered, even.

Yang dutifully recited PR-supplied sound bites. He said things like “We didn’t walk away from the Microsoft deal. They did.” At one point he said “I like Google” (he still doesn’t realize that they’re Yahoo’s enemy, not Microsoft). He talked about the future, sometimes stringing together four or five unrelated statements about their how they are coming together as a team and focusing on the future. He talked about how outside perception of Yahoo is very different from what’s actually going on internally (although the execs I’ve spoken with say the outside perception is pretty much right on the money).

Yang was not prepared for perhaps the one question that every CEO should be ready to answer at all times: “What is the business of Yahoo?” He was all over the place. He said their core focus included “home page, mail, search, and mobile.” He also said “We can’t be all things to all people. We have become much more focused,” before taking about other areas of focus at Yahoo, including advertising, social networking and their new open strategy.

Decker stepped in and tried to distill their core message, repeating “we focus on homepage, search, mail and mobile” but then went on to talk extensively about advertising, including a new display advertising product that the company will launch in Q3 this year.

From where I sit, I saw no core focus and no clear product or corporate strategy. Yahoo has no idea what they want to do or who’s going to do it. I saw no charisma, excitement or leadership at all (things I’ve seen regularly from Yang in the past). I saw, simply, failure.

“I will never be a CEO again,” Yang said near the end of the interview. Based on what he’s going through, I can understand how he feels.