January 19, 2009, 12:00 AM

Yahoo searches for change with outsider and tech expert as new CEO

Yahoo, in what some experts see as a move to shore up its online ad technology, has named former Autodesk CEO Carol Bartz as its top executive. She has succeeded Yahoo co-founder Jerry Yang, who remains with the company as a strategic evangelist.

Paul Demery

Managing Editor, B2B E-commerce

Yahoo, in what some experts see as a move to shore up its search technology, has named former AutoDesk Inc. CEO Carol Bartz as its top executive. She has succeeded Yahoo co-founder Jerry Yang, who remains with the company as a strategic evangelist.

Bartz, 60, brings to Yahoo more than 14 years of experience at the helm of Autodesk, which she helped build into a major provider of computer-aided design software, Yahoo notes in a statement on her appointment. During her tenure as CEO of Autodesk from the early 1990s to 2006, Autodesk’s sales grew more than five-fold to $1.5 billion. Bartz served as executive chairman of Autodesk from 2006 until joining Yahoo this month.

Prior to Autodesk, Bartz served in executive positions leading global operations, engineering, and sales and marketing for technology companies including Sun Microsystems Inc., Digital Equipment Corp. and 3M. She has also served on the boards of technology companies Intel Corp. and Cisco Systems Inc. and data storage company NetApp.

Bartz’s background is seen by Yahoo as ideal for helping to turn the company toward more profitable growth as it competes in the online advertising space against Google Inc.

“She is the exact combination of seasoned technology executive and savvy leader that the board was looking for...to get back on a path toward achieving full potential,” says Yahoo chairman Roy Bostock.

Karsten Weide, program director, digital media and entertainment, at research and advisory firm IDC, says that Bartz, though without direct experience in the media industry, has the management expertise to better organize Yahoo’s product portfolio, produce a better business model and build employee morale. And her technology experience, he adds, “will allow her to make Yahoo’s engineering better in two business sectors that are crucial for Yahoo’s success: search and display advertising.”

But Bartz faces steep challenges in building a new Yahoo while competing against Google, says Kevin Lee, chairman and CEO of search marketing firm Didit. With a larger base of advertisers and more effective search technology, Google has reached a critical mass and a huge head-start in the online advertising market, he says.

One area where Yahoo could move ahead of Google, he adds, is with a new cost-per-click behavioral search product that Yahoo could develop by merging its search technology platform and its display ad platform. “A cost-per-click behavioral search product would be welcomed by marketers and give Yahoo a short-term advantage,” Lee contends.

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