February 23, 2024

Bits Blog: Carol Bartz on the Yahoo Board That Fired Her and Advice for Marissa Mayer

If Carol Bartz, the former chief executive of Yahoo, could go back in time, she would have changed one thing about her relationship with the board that fired her by phone last year.

Ms. Bartz would have spent more time understanding the relationships between the board members, she said Tuesday at Fortune’s Most Powerful Women summit in Laguna Niguel, Calif.

Carol Bartz at Fortune’s Most Powerful Women event.Alex Gallardo/Reuters Carol Bartz at Fortune’s Most Powerful Women event.

“I didn’t understand or have the time or take the time — that’s a much better thing to say, take the time — to understand the relationships they had between themselves,” she said.

How could she have done that as chief executive? “Well, you go in the men’s room,” she said. In reality, she added, she should have arranged dinners with two board members at a time.

Ms. Bartz gave Yahoo’s former board some credit — but also a little dig.

“Unfortunately for the board, they had gone through one year of the acquisition battle with Microsoft,” she said. “And in fairness to them, they just wanted it to be simple, like no more press, no more anything. But the business is tougher than that.”

Now Marissa Mayer has taken over as chief executive of Yahoo, with an entirely new board. Ms. Bartz said she and Ms. Mayer have spoken about the job.

Her advice for Ms. Mayer was to understand that change at such a big company is hard. Ms. Mayer is trying to change Yahoo’s culture in ways big and small, like serving free food and acquiring more startups.

“One piece of advice I would give her is changing culture is not a sprint, it’s a marathon,” Ms. Bartz said. “It’s very, very hard to affect culture. And you can get surprised thinking you’re farther down the path of change than you really are because, frankly, most of us like the way things are.”

Employees might nod when an executive suggests changes, she said, “then they go back to their cube and go, ‘I ain’t doing that.’ And so I think that’s important for all of us, is to realize how stuck individuals can be, much less 14,000 people.”

Ms. Bartz did not rule out taking another chief executive role, saying she is an opportunist rather than a planner.

“I grew up in a small town in Wisconsin,” she said. “I never thought I’d be where I am. I never thought I’d have bling,” she said, flashing the rings on her fingers before adding, with perfect comic timing, “that I bought.”

Ms. Bartz is the lead director of Cisco Systems, where she has been on the board for two decades, and she has also served on seven other public company boards during that time.

The difference between a good board and a bad one, she said, is not panicking, which she said the Cisco board achieves, and being genuinely interested in the company rather than prestige or money.

She said she has turned down board positions from banks because “I like banks because they keep my money safe, but I don’t want to talk about banks 12 times a year.”

Directors who are genuinely interested will take the time to get to know one another and the executives, but not be afraid to fire one another, she said.

“When trouble strikes, which it always does — bad economy, bad quarter, activists, takeover — when trouble strikes, those board members who don’t understand or are not committed are not helpful,” she said.

Article source: http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/10/04/carol-bartz-on-the-yahoo-board-that-fired-her-and-advice-for-marissa-mayer/?partner=rss&emc=rss