GeoCities CEO in the job market?

Summary:Sources say Tom Evans is a hot item at Internet companies looking for leadership.

If all goes according to plan, the $4 billion merger between Yahoo! and leading community site GeoCities should close on May 28, when a shareholder vote is held in GeoCities' home port of Marina Del Rey, Calif.

As the mega-portal finalizes the deal, sources within the company say GeoCities (Nasdaq:GCTY) CEO Tom Evans has been offered a key position within the Yahoo! (Nasdaq:YHOO) organization. But Evans is actively mulling offers from other Internet firms and will likely leave his post shortly after the merger's close, sources tell MSNBC.

Evans declined comment, citing the required pre-merger quiet period, but the highly respected executive - who played a pivotal role in GeoCities' successful initial public offering last summer - is, not surprisingly, being pursued by "lots of people looking for management talent," according to a source close to GeoCities.

Sources familiar with Yahoo's plans, however, say the portal is expecting Evans to remain with the firm as vice president of industry relations. A Yahoo spokeswoman declined comment because of the quiet period.

Evans, the former president and publisher of U.S. News & World Report, joined GeoCities in May of 1998 with the goal of whipping the popular, but financially weak network of personal homepages into shape. By all accounts, he achieved that goal.

"Evans got high marks all around," a senior Internet media executive explains. "Now his work is done" and he's looking to move on.

Earlier this month, Evans joined the board of Worldweb.net, an Alexandria, Va.-based provider of online solutions for the content management industry.

Some sources suggest Evans may be thinking of joining a firm within CMGI, which owns 35 percent of GeoCities, and has investments in about 12 Internet companies looking to go public, including SilkNet and Engage. Evans is also believed to be looking at a number of other firms, although their identities could not be ascertained.

GeoCities founder to leave
In addition, GeoCities chairman and founder David Bohnett, who relinquished day-to-day management of the community site when Evans came aboard, will not remain with the company once the Yahoo merger is completed, a source close to Yahoo says.

Other key GeoCities officers - including Stephen Hansen, chief financial officer, Michael Barrett, vice president of advertising sales and Bruce Zanca, vice president of communications - have been offered positions within Yahoo, although with lesser titles, sources say. It is unclear whether they will accept those offers.

Analysts were mixed on whether Yahoo needs the GeoCities management to assure continued growth of the collection of homemade Web sites.

"Yahoo! has a very deep management team and they aren't totally dependent on retaining people from Geocities," says Bruce Smith, Internet analyst with Jeffries & Co.

However, Mike Wallace, an analyst who follows Yahoo! for Warburg Dillon Read, disagrees: "Yahoo's got a great management team, but I would be surprised if they're not locking up agreements from the key people to make sure they stay."

Housecleaning underway
Details are still being worked out, but Yahoo has already begun housecleaning at GeoCities, with about half of its roughly 300 staffers being let go.

Despite the expected layoffs, the mood at GeoCities is upbeat, sources say, because nearly all of the community site's staffers have stock options that are fully vested.

"Everybody at GeoCities is in the money," says a source familiar with the Internet company's stock plan.

Meanwhile, analysts say Yahoo will retain the distinct GeoCities brand post-merger, although the estimated 40 different "neighborhoods" of interest will be closely integrated in Yahoo's channels and directories.

"It would foolish to rebrand it," says Jeffries & Co.'s Smith. "Yahoo needs multiple sticky products and to cross promote those products. And they need multiple brands to do it."

"It makes a lot of sense to retain as many brand names as possible," says Dawn Simon, the analyst with Brown Brothers Harriman who follows Yahoo. "If Yahoo ever negotiates with a telecom or media partner, having a series of recognized brand names would provide them leverage."

While the Web portal hasn't yet articulated how it will integrate GeoCities' vast audience - in March more than 21 million people visited GeoCities, making it the sixth most popular Web site, according to online measurement firm Media Metrix - Internet advertising executives caution that managing community on the Web isn't as easy as it seems.

"Yahoo can handle GeoCities, but I encourage them to treat it like a newborn," says Sean Finnegan at J. Walter Thompson, an agency for Merrill Lynch. "Community has depth and is more complex than they give it credit for."

Topics: Start-Ups

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