It wasn't even a year ago that conversations with Yahoo executives focused around the (failed) Microsoft deal, a proxy fight with Carl Icahn and a (failed) search deal with Google. Today, the company is talking about what it probably has wanted to talk about for a long time: partnerships, ad opportunities and user engagement.
During a session at the Goldman Sachs Technology Conference in San Francisco, CFO and executive VP Blake Jorgensen and EVP HIllary Schneider were never once asked about Icahn or Jerry Yang. Instead, the two talked about things like growth and new opportunities in video and mobile markets. And they gave some insight into the new Yahoo, the one run by the new, no-nonsense CEO Carol Bartz.
Bartz, they said, is a decisive leader who operates on gut instinct, focuses on simplification and doesn't seem to tolerate a lax approach. Case in point: the "new sheriff in town," as Schneider referred to her, doesn't tolerate tardiness in Yahoo meetings and doesn't have time for "stupid questions." Bartz, they said, comes from the "school of KISS - Keep It Simple, Stupid."
Sounds to me like ol' Carol is cracking the whip and buckling down - something the company needed, huh?
Jorgensen and Schneider spent some time talking about search, specifically the hot topic of whether a search deal or even sale of that business segment - presumably with/to Microsoft - is in the works. Jorgensen said the company "is not opposed to a deal that would maximize the value of the business, be it a partnership or sale in the long term" but was quick to point out that search is a complex business that connects - literally, on servers - with other elements of the business, such as Mail and Messenger. He said:
It's difficult to draw a line down the middle of the organization and split it into two. That doesn't mean it can't be done. It could. But we'd want to do it right.
Schneider spent some time talking about two areas that don't get a lot of attention - video and mobile - and how the strategies in those spaces are positioning the company for the future.
For video, she offered an examples of Tech Ticker and the "phenomenally successful" Yahoo Sports Minute, relatively low-cost, in-house video productions that have found sponsors in Scottrade and Dunkin Donuts. The partnership with Dunkin, for example, is an example of identifying and reaching a very specific demographic - time-strapped male commuter who wants a quick recap of the sports headlines and might also want a donut and some coffee on the way to the office in the morning.
In terms of mobile, the strategy involves partnerships with the major providers, which allows the company to drive technology, notably around e-mail, which has been one the first mainstream applications to be adopted in mobile (thanks to the Blackberry for the kickstart). Mobile, Jorgensen said, is still a nascent market, one where no one is really generating ad dollars yet. When that market does open, Yahoo will be well positioned with its partners, he said.
Overall, it was refreshing sort of peek into Yahoo and it was clear from even the questions being asked by the analysts that fears about the company's future have seemed to calm since Bartz came on-board. Yahoo isn't out of the woods yet - after all, Bartz has only been on-board for a little over a month. But it's definitely nice to talk about strategies again and put all of that in-fighting behind us.