Will Yahoo Make Interim CEO Levinsohn Its Main Man?

NEWS ANALYSIS: It's too early to tell, because the board of directors is still in the process of interviewing candidates, but Ross Levinsohn has made a good impression during his short stint in the Big Chair.

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Yahoo's annual shareholders' meetings have been contentious affairs the last few years, as one would expect at a company that is leaking oil like a shot-up fighter plane limping home after a dogfight.

/images/stories/eweek.logo.analysis1.jpgThere is still a lot of unease inside the search and Web services business as the 2012 shareholders' event began July 12 in San Jose, Calif.; witness the stock price of $15.69 at market close, for one key example. Six years ago the stock was $40, and back in 2000 it was selling for more than $100.

A lot of people are wondering if and when they will ever make their money back.

The Yahoo board, which has changed over almost completely over in the last two years, is fervently hoping that its most recent appointee to the CEO chair -- the seventh in the 17-year history of the company -- will stick, and that some sort of permanency ensues for a period of a few years, at least. This is the first step for the company to return to its winning ways.

/images/stories/Ross_Levinsohn.YahooCEO.jpgNew, More Cooperative Attitude

Yahoo interim CEO Ross Levinsohn (pictured), who replaced the disgraced Scott Thompson May 13 after Thompson was found to have embellished his resume and covered it up, has brought with him not only a vetted resume but a new, more cooperative attitude to the struggling Internet search and services company.

A recent example of that change is that Yahoo and Facebook, located a few miles from each other in Silicon Valley and longtime media partners, announced only a week ago that they had signed a new advertising agreement that will expand current content distribution arrangements between them. This deal could mean hundreds of millions of dollars' worth of new income for Yahoo, which should help improve that stock price.

More importantly, the two companies also decided to let legal bygones be bygones and settle all pending patent claims they have been contesting for the last few months. Under previous CEO Thompson, Yahoo back on March 12 sued Facebook for allegedly infringing on patents related to social networking and other technologies. Yahoo had wanted Facebook to pay to use technology spanning 10 to 20 patents covering online advertising, Website personalization and social networking.

The potentially multimillion-dollar case never advanced into court, however, because Yahoo rethought its position and realized that it wasn't going to be worth all the acrimony. Now, with Levinsohn at the helm and a nearly all-new board behind him, a potentially lucrative deal with Facebook is on the books, and all that nasty litigation is history.

Decision on Permanent CEO Not Likely to Be Soon

One of the key decisions stockholders are not likely to make in the next day or two is whether to sign Levinsohn to a long-term contract. This is because the board is still interviewing other candidates, including several from outside the company. So Levinsohn-as-CEO is not a done deal.

In fact, a decision on a CEO -- the most important action the company likely will take in 2012 -- probably will not come until later this summer, when all the interviewing is completed. That is how it should be; companies don't like to overlook or miss out on a good prospect for this job.

However, there is something important to be said for Levinsohn: He has been acting CEO for a mere eight weeks, yet he has already made an excellent impression by being who he claims to be, dropping corporation litigation, and instilling a new approach at the company in that brief snippet of time.

This is a company that is slowly coming apart at the seams, yet Levinsohn is a man who has made an immediate good impact by planting seeds of good will. One hopes the board and shareholders will consider this pretty seriously come decision time.

Chris Preimesberger is Editor of Features and Analysis at eWEEK. Twitter: @editingwhiz

Chris Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger is Editor-in-Chief of eWEEK and responsible for all the publication's coverage. In his 15 years and more than 4,000 articles at eWEEK, he has distinguished himself in reporting...