Yang's Exit: Did Yahoo!'s Chief Get Played by Google?

  • Share
  • Read Later
Mark Lennihan / AP

Yahoo!'s Jerry Yang

Did Jerry Yang get played? And did Google do the playing?

It's not surprising that Yang is stepping down as chief executive of Yahoo! His failure in June to accept an offer from Microsoft that would have paid stockholders $33 a share was the coup de schnook. So why didn't the board of directors oust him by Labor Day? Yes, there was the wrath of Carl Icahn, the proxy fight, the settlement that resulted in a reconstituted board. But that circus was all over and done with by July 21.

So why now?

The collapse of the Google deal on Nov. 5 had to be the last straw. Yang and the company he co-founded were without an ally, and his bum's rush was all but assured. But was Google ever a real ally? That is, was Yang suckered from the get-go?

Without Google in Yahoo!'s corner, Yang would never have been bold enough to try and squeeze an extra $4 per share out of Microsoft. By all accounts, he genuinely believed that it was a win-win situation: either he would exact a premium from Microsoft or he would team up with Google, which would sell ads against the world's most-visited website and revive its fortunes. How could Yahoo! lose?

But the only real winner here is and always was Google. (It remains to be seen whether Microsoft will strike a deal with the next Yahoo! in Chief.) While I'm not suggesting that Google CEO Eric Schmidt was dissembling when he said in March that he was concerned about a Microsoft-Yahoo! deal, and I'm sure his motives were pure when he tried to broker his own deal to partner with Yahoo!, let's not forget that Google was once more competitive with Yahoo! than it was with Microsoft. That is, Google's search engine and subsequent targeted-ad strategy succeeded at Yahoo!'s expense. Yahoo! was always the enemy.

Can you imagine how Yang felt when Google decided to abandon the proposed partnership earlier this month? What a kick in the head.

And I wonder how he felt today, when Google suddenly decided to start hanging ads on Google Finance, its financial news portal. It's already one-tenth the size of Yahoo! Finance, and growing fast.

See TIME's Pictures of the Week.

See the Cartoons of the Week.