Yahoo (NSDQ: YHOO) faced a pretty big whack of upheavals in 2011 — not least of which was the none-too-quiet departure of their outspoken former CEO Carol Bartz. Will the company this year try to stabilize and play things a bit more quietly? Just days into 2012, a report has emerged that it could be naming a new CEO — Scott Thompson, the current president of eBay’s PayPal — with the announcement coming possibly as soon as today.
The news was first put out into the ether by Kara Swisher at AllThingsD, who got the original tip from an anonymous source, which means that the information has not been confirmed by either eBay (NSDQ: EBAY) or Yahoo, but Swisher has been on top of (and accurate about) much of the executive-upheaval news at the internet portal.
Swisher describes Thompson as a bona-fide “Internet geek,” but he is actually something a little more specific: his background is in commerce and payments (prior to PayPal he worked for Visa). And most recently, his big emphasis has been in mobile commerce, an area where PayPal has grown and is growing its presence a lot.
That raises tantalizing questions about what could be Yahoo’s next strategic step. More effective ways of monetizing the traffic that passes through its advertising, search and portal networks? Possibly even looking at a new direction in transactions? That’s an area where companies like Google (NSDQ: GOOG) and Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) have established a strong base, largely through their mobile businesses.
Of course, a cynic might argue that a leopard cannot change its spots, and that Yahoo’s organizational issues may prove to challenge any new ideas. Once a leader in search, advertising and online information portals, Yahoo has in more recent years seen those businesses hit hard, particularly by competition from Google and increasingly Facebook (both now make more than Yahoo from display ads, an area where it was once king).
That has led to the company to try many different things over the past several years to turns things around — some meanderings in mobile, many executive changes, new products and services, and more recently an ad partnership with Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT) and AOL (NYSE: AOL), two former arch competitors also hit by the Facebook/Google-naut. It actually beat analyst forecasts during its last quarterly earnings — but that seemed to be more due to lowered expectations.
After Bartz left the company in September 2011, Yahoo began to explore various options for itself, including the possible sale of part or all of the company. That has involved protracted negotiations with private equity firms, and also Softbank and Alibaba, who are shareholders and have respective JVs with Yahoo in Japan and China. These are still ongoing and could either result in the sale of those JVs, or, if you believe some reports, the outright sale of Yahoo to Alibaba.
The appointment of a CEO like Thompson, who could offer a new direction for Yahoo, could prove to be useful regardless of what the outcome is of those other negotiations.