April 20, 2024

Yahoo’s Emphasis Is ‘Better,’ Not ‘New’

“I helped create some belief,” he said.

Yahoo has amassed one of the largest online audiences in the world — 680 million users. It is the fourth-largest site; only Google, Microsoft and Facebook are larger. Yet it does not get the same kind of respect from the public, from advertisers and certainly not investors, who have grown impatient waiting for the turnaround promised by Carol A. Bartz, Yahoo’s chief executive.

She has been trying to revive Yahoo by focusing on its strengths in news, sports and entertainment and increasing revenue from online display advertising. So last year she hired Mr. Irving to give Yahoo a lift. Yahoo’s e-mail service and news sites attract more than 250 million users; if they were stand-alone sites, they would rank among the largest in the world. Its sports, finance and news sites are among the company’s most visited properties.

But after years of losing ground to rivals as the company tried to fight Google in search, battled Microsoft’s takeover attempt and neglected some of those core properties, Yahoo is seeking innovative products and new blockbusters that will win Internet users’ attention and attract advertisers.

Since starting, Mr. Irving said, he has created a new vision for Yahoo’s products, cleared a path for building them and given discouraged workers something to believe in.

But innovation has been slow during his tenure, and the company’s finances have yet to improve. Revenue declined modestly in 2010 while competitors like Google gained. It is expected to be much the same story this year.

Yahoo has to keep up with a rapidly evolving industry, said Benjamin Schachter, an analyst for Macquarie Securities. Its efforts in social networking failed, and it outsourced its Web search to Microsoft. Yahoo now faces the risk of losing any presence on mobile devices, where people are spending an increasing amount of time. “They need to remain relevant,” said Mr. Schachter, who on Wednesday will be among Wall Street securities analysts in a meeting to hear Ms. Bartz give them a reason to believe.

Mr. Irving has improved many of the company’s products, Mr. Schachter said. “They seem to be moving in the right direction. We just want to see it in the numbers.”

Mr. Irving, 51, is central to the turnaround effort. Ms. Bartz lured him a year ago from the rolling campus of Pepperdine University in Malibu, Calif., where he was a business professor. She wanted to tap his 15 years of experience in building products for one of the biggest online audiences, at Microsoft. As vice president for Microsoft’s online platforms group, Mr. Irving oversaw most of that company’s sprawling Internet empire. He had also held a variety of product roles for major Microsoft services like Hotmail, MSN Instant Messenger and NetMeeting, the video conference platform.

Mr. Irving said Yahoo’s huge audience and Ms. Bartz’s mandate to create a new vision for the company persuaded him to accept the challenge. “There are very few places in the world where you can do what you can do here,” he said.

But first he needed to start changing Yahoo’s culture. Mr. Irving, with a shaved head and earring, affects a rock-and-roll image. A former professional jazz musician, he keeps an electronic drum set in a conference room near his cubicle and cranks up Rage Against the Machine in the office late at night. Mr. Irving compared his role at Yahoo to his experience as a drummer. The rhythm section lays down the foundation, listens carefully to the other musicians and then interacts with them during their solos, he explained. “You’re leading and you’re not,” Mr. Irving said.

In some of his early meetings, he gave his staff a list of his core values, beginning with, “I have a sense of humor, and it’s important to me.” But he’s had to make serious changes. He thought that Yahoos, as the employees call themselves, spent far too much time debating — to the company’s detriment — whether advertising annoyed Yahoo’s users. He ended that chatter by declaring in a new list of corporate principles that products can be both innovative and profitable. He also said that there was safety in risk and that products should be built to work on all kinds of Internet-connected devices, and not just for computers.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=f66dd34b5680bbceeaf3192c72baf3aa

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