The reviews of Jerry Yang's performance at the Web 2.0 Summit have not been glowing. The Yahoo CEO's interview with Web 2.0 Summit co-host John Battelle this week has been described as a train wreck, self-delusional, and as making a mockery of the vaunted company he helped create.
During the interview, Yang defined Yahoo's vision as a "consumer brand that allows people to get what they want on the Internet." Yahoo is a destination site with starting points, such as Yahoo Finance and the Yahoo home page, and is rewiring its platform to be more open and extensible. It serves billions of dollars in ads and is the No. 2 search engine. It's a sound strategy. Yahoo is not Google or Microsoft and has to double-down on its core assets and 500 million to 600 million users.
Yang's job is to sell that vision inside and especially outside of Yahoo. The problem is Yang can't sell.
Why did Jerry Yang take the CEO role at Yahoo?
He lacks the out-sized personality and charisma that is needed to inspire confidence in battles for the soul of a company. He said he would "go through walls" for Yahoo, but having personal passion and a vision isn't enough to get others to walk through the walls.
He has to convince employees, shareholders, customers, and partners that no matter how difficult the situation, he can lead Yahoo to the promised land. Think reality-distortion field Steve Jobs, no-software Marc Benioff, dancing bear Steve Ballmer, the disarming Howard Stringer, the professorial Eric Schmidt, or the preacher John Chambers. Bill Gates doesn't have the most charismatic or endearing personality, but he manages to control interviews, delivering the messages he wants.
TechCrunch's Mike Arrington wrote that Yahoo needs its Barack Obama, "someone to make everyone believe that a true leader is at the helm, ready to fight. Someone with a believable plan. Someone who can inspire Yahoo--and Yahoo users--to believe that Yahoo can once again become a force on the Internet."
Yang is ready and willing to fight, but the Chief Yahoo needs a new general to lead his troops.
Watch the full video, courtesy of TechWeb: