Jerry Yang’s precise management responsibilities at Yahoo may have been hard to define, but his title at the US internet company he co-founded said it all: Chief Yahoo.
On Tuesday, the man who had presided over one of the first internet portals severed his ties with the business once and for all as he resigned from its board. If the troubled company is to find a new path in an online world dominated by Facebook and Google, it will have to do so without a figure who represented the strongest link to its origins of 16 years ago.
Mr Yang’s influence has remained strong since he stepped down as chief executive in 2009 after a turbulent two-year stint. It was on his watch that Yahoo failed to consummate an acquisition approach by Microsoft worth more than twice its current value. Many shareholders have held him responsible for that slip, suspecting that his personal ties to the company made him less willing to accept an acquisition than other shareholders.
That did not stop Yahoo from allowing its co-founder, who had taken more of a backroom role, from becoming involved in discussions with possible investors late last year as it looked for a strategic reboot to revive its sagging stock price.
With Mr Yang out of the way, many on Wall Street are betting that a change in direction will now come about more quickly – particularly if, as expected, other directors follow Mr Yang out the door in the coming weeks.
High on Yahoo’s list of options is a sale of its valuable stakes in Chinese ecommerce company Alibaba and its namesake Yahoo Japan – companies from which Mr Yang also resigned as a director this week. Jack Ma, founder of Alibaba, spoke warmly of his personal relationship with Mr Yang but was quick to express his continued enthusiasm for working with Yahoo’s board – reflecting renewed optimism that a deal will follow now Mr Yang has left the scene.