The train wreck is over. The damage has been done. Yahoo's perennially troubled board failed to vet the resume of a once-promising CEO. All the company can do now is pick up the pieces and move on. But what exactly does that mean? How does Yahoo move on from here?
Certainly, there is no shortage of wreckage to move on from: Yahoo's (YHOO) CEO suite has been a revolving door of leaders. Each enters hopeful and exits defeated. The stock has lost 64% of its value since its January 2006 peak. Facebook and Google (GOOG) have been eating Yahoo's ad-revenue lunch. And the whole time, Yahoo's board has floundered in complacency, making the easy decisions that only made things worse.
Yahoo began 2012 with hope that its brand-new CEO Scott Thompson had what it took to push the company into the future. Thompson's success leading eBay's (EBAY) PayPal unit inspired him to steer the company away from online ads and toward e-commerce and data analysis. It was a strategy bold and unorthodox enough that it just might work. Then activist investor Third Point uncovered a falsehood in a Thomson bio included in a Yahoo proxy statement filed with the SEC. Third Point used it as a thug would wield a cudgel. Within a week, Thompson was gone.
That has plunged Yahoo into its darkest hour since Microsoft (MSFT) withdrew its $31-a-share takeover bid -- perhaps even the bleakest moment of its 18-year history. And yet, those old comforting chestnuts like "it's always darkest before the dawn" may have some truth in them for Yahoo. It could easily get even darker for the one-time web giant, but let's not think about that right now. What if the chaos that is shaking the company could -- if the right decisions are made -- make it stronger?
It would take some hard decisions, big risks and a good deal of cunning.
The first step would be giving Third Point much of what it wants. That seems all but inevitable, now that Yahoo's board seats three of Third Point's recommended directors, including the firm's own Daniel Loeb -- until now Yahoo's gadfly-in-chief. Loeb outlined his "solutions" for Yahoo in nine tidy bullet points. But except for a few significant changes -- clearly, his true agenda -- Loeb's plan is as specific as an architect's blueprint drawn on a cocktail napkin.
ThirdPoint was most specific when it clamored for Yahoo to cash out of its Asian assets like Alibaba and Yahoo Japan. While the value of these assets could increase if Yahoo holds onto them, it's time for Yahoo to give them up and use that money to invest in select investments of talented web startups that could provide the foundation for the second act of the Yahoo brand.