Carl Icahn Can’t Save Yahoo

The battle for search supremacy has official gone postal. Yahoocrosoft was botched like so many other attempted acquisitions or collaborative endeavors in the corporate world. Competitive histrionics included name-calling, infectious finger pointing and backbiting on an epic scale.

Sure, Carl Icahn is a big Yahoo shareholder and he’s hopping mad. If I had any Yahoo stock, I’d be hopping mad too. This most recent public exchange between Icahn and Yahoo management is just the latest round of treating symptoms while ignoring the illness.

As is often the case when corporate spats go public, lots of questions remain in the minds of searchers, search marketers, Yahoo shareholders, Microsoft employees, and the general public.

No Sleeping on the Job

Tasteless humor aside, Icahn doesn’t really care about saving Yahoo. Well, not in the sense that Yahoo’s brand as an information destination could be resurrected. Icahn wants to make money for the Yahoo shareholders. Well, short-term money, by nixing (among other things) an employee retention plan that was arguably inserted into Yahoo’s portfolio to thwart nasty takeovers.

Meanwhile, back in Mountain View, Google just signed a sweetheart deal with NASA to lease land, expand office space, and build housing for employees. Also included in the 40 year lease is handy-dandy perk that allows Google to land its private jets on NASA’s closed-to-the-public airstrip.

Google employees already get free gourmet meals, all the snacks you can choke down, and some of the sweetest benefits packages known to the working man. It won’t be too long before Google employees start flying to Moon Base Google on a shuttle with a cute and quirky search engine logo on it.

Sure, it’s the retention plan that’s holding Yahoo back.

Blame Everyone … Do Nothing

While Icahn argues that Yahoo’s benefits package is a “poison pill,” Yahoo’s management struggles to compete with the likes of Google on the perk front and everywhere else. While Icahn is upset that management has let Yahoo become second fiddle to Google, Jerry Yang and company fight to keep Yahoo moving forward.

And make no mistake, Yahoo is moving forward. Purple search isn’t dead because Yahoo doesn’t have access to private landing strips and the cast of “Iron Chef” making breakfast, lunch, and dinner for its employees.

I lie awake at night wondering why all this public banter isn’t recognized for what it is: posturing in the name of gathering votes, in the interest of cashing out, couched in attempts to blame management for decisions beyond their control.

Digression is Good

The Wall Street Journal’s supplement All Things Digital interview with Jerry Yang and Sue Decker was a nice respite from last week’s idiotic back and forth between cash hounds. Yang said that he bleeds purple and he’s the best guy to run Yahoo. Yang also said that he’s thinking long-term, and it’s early on in the search game.

I know I’ve said this before, but it’s worth saying again. Yes, it’s early on the Internet world, and long-term thinking is in exceedingly short supply in today’s panicked economic universe. Yahoo isn’t cutting no-bid deals to land jets on government land — it’s trying to figure out how to succeed by its own innovative means.

How much time will pass before we look back at Google’s investment in humanity and landing strips as foolish waste, or corrupt spending? I wonder what Icahn would say if Yahoo made similar investments in its people?

Yahoo is being forced into a corner by short-term thinking, and that will be the sole cause of creating a large purple corpse. Fortunately for Yahoo, the fight isn’t over.

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