Why People Hated Yahoo's Chief, Carol Bartz

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People hated Carol Bartz for forcing us to consider the technology business as a business
bartz-post.jpgPeople don't tend to like Carol Bartz, but let's be honest: she milked money from a dying cash cow, exactly like she was supposed to. 

Bartz followed Jerry Yang, the company's co-founder, who triumphantly returned to the helm in 2007 and then did nothing to reverse the company's decline. After the Yang experiment, Yahoo's board brought in a CEO with a reputation for making places lean, mean, and profitable. Nothing great happened, but investors fed on the net income while the place burned. 

In the ten quarters before Carol Bartz got to Yahoo, the company's net income totaled $1.5 billion. In the ten quarters of her tenure, that number rose to $2.3 billion. That's a 52 percent increase in rough economic conditions and while Yahoo's revenue was falling under competitive pressure from Google and Facebook (among others). Bartz may have never quite figured out what Yahoo was and may have capitulated on its search business, but she made money for the people who hired her. 

Carol Bartz was merely the apparatchik brought in to do the dirty work. She was reminder that the technology business is still a business, not just a strange appendage to the TED conference. And even if she'd been as sweet as Reese Witherspoon, people would have hated her. 

Yesterday, for her performance, Bartz was unceremoniously fired by telephone and responded by sending her goodbye email from her iPad. What's the lesson? In Silicon Valley, where buzz and excitement drive employees to flock to the Next Little Thing hoping it will become the Next Big Thing, sucking a company dry doesn't work, except for the people drinking the green blood.

Image: Reuters.
 
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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science website in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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