Buzz (Saw): Don’t Bet Against Yahoo’s CEO Carol Bartz

Image representing Carol Bartz as depicted in ...
Image via CrunchBase

Employment buzz, like fashion, works in fickle fits and starts. Companies can be much sought after one month and disdained as road kill a few months later.

That fickleness is never so pointed as in the San Francisco-Silicon Valley area, where tech stars and would-be titans cherish being on top, and dread being proverbial yesterday’s news. Wall Street may clamor for limos and favored restaurant tables; this part of the world craves admiration and the envy that comes with the “smart” success in the tech world. You don’t have to even be a body language expert to know that the photos of a meeting earlier this year between Apple’s Steve Jobs and Google’s Eric Schmidt was one of master and supplicant with Schmidt playing the role of the latter. The fact that Steve Jobs is more loved and respected by employees than any other CEO in tech puts a proverbial cherry on the top in this C suite rivalry.

The employment and recruiting arena – sometimes referred to the talent wars – plays into this scheme. Keeps and losses of key staff give us a sense of who is losing and who is winning, sort of a frame by frame calculation. Apple’s ranks have apparently stayed put, while Facebook and Twitter have reportedly found friendly hunting amongst Google employees as reported by Liz Gannes; “The Landscape Around Google’s Hiring Binge.” The chatter that Google has “lost its way” is already strong and clear – and will impact the firm’s ability to pull in more entrepreneurial talent.

The perceived laggards get the brunt of the press as one-time darlings who have grown up, gone corporate, and perhaps gone stale. The headline of a recent Reuter’s special report on Microsoft says it all for the Puget Sound area giant; “Sleepy in Seattle – Microsoft learns to mature.

And what about Yahoo, that other former tech darling who has seen talent leave, most recently the Kara Swisher-reported departure of Lee Brown to head Groupon’s Head of National Sales? A count by Fortune Magazine in October put the number of key executive departures at 15 in the last 22 months, the tenure of Yahoo CEO Carol Bartz.

I don’t know Carol Bartz, though I’d like to, and the fickleness ranks have Yahoo pegged even below Microsoft as an employer of choice amongst tech talent. I have had the privilege of watching Bartz from afar when she moved from working at Sun Microsystems (no piece of cake job, I might add) to take the helm of AutoDesk 18 years ago. While employee reviews of her at the San Rafael firm are mixed, she brought order, predictability and performance to what had become a very large and inconsistent software firm.

She took risks when prudent – such as investments in firms such as Buzzsaw – and generally operated conservatively, luxuries she may not have at Yahoo. Bartz has exacting standards, and has a history of being an effective and winning manager, qualities that don’t wash off easily and make her someone to be given slack to work her brand of effective leadership again.

Yahoo looks like they’re at the bottom of the heap today though it helps to remember – as Bartz does in this video interview with BusinessWeek – that not too long ago Steve Jobs and Apple were in the same position.

And one thing I’ve learned in my work coaching and assessing people is not to bet against winners like Carol Bartz; they have an odd habit of figuring out a way to come out on top again.

Life Back West is an occasional set of writings focused on ways people, teams and organizations can be both more effective (doing the right thing) and more efficient (doing the right thing well). More about executive, career and team / leadership coaching services can be found at the “About J. Mike Smith and Back West, Inc.” sidebar or the “Hire Me” tab above. You can also read an online interview with me at WhoHub, as well as participate in my learning community courtesy of KnowledgeCrush.

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