Yahoo 'Resumegate': Storm in a teacup, or scandal in the making?

Yahoo 'Resumegate': Storm in a teacup, or scandal in the making?

Summary: Yahoo's chief executive is accused of lying about his college education. Storm in a teacup, much? What's the worst that could happen?

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Yahoo chief executive Scott Thompson has been accused of lying in his resume in an already brewing scandal dubbed "Resumegate".

Carol Bartz: "LOL." Well, probably.

The whole debacle appears on the face of it to be no more than a storm in a teacup. Thompson is alleged to have put a non-existent "computer science" degree on his resume when it transpires he was an accounting major.

But until willful deception can be proved --- and at this stage it's looking as though it could be --- Thompson could face one almighty backlash from his company's shareholders, the U.S. government, but arguably worse of all, his own employees.

Whether or not his alleged computer science degree may have helped him rise up the ranks towards PayPal president and Yahoo chief executive remains unclear. Someone has to start somewhere, after all.

It does, however, raise questions of his credibility and ongoing competence.

In a nutshell: Daniel Loeb, activist investor with firm Third Point, began his proxy battle with Thompson and the remaining Yahoo board. Loeb wanted more seats on the board, but Yahoo refused. Loeb decided to make the degree allegations public, claiming the college he attained his computer science degree didn't even offer the qualification while he was in attendance.

Yahoo claimed it was an "inadvertent error", but promised an investigation. But Yahoo can't take the hit for Thompson's biography on eBay's pages, which made the same claims. The common connection is Thompson himself.

The once darling of the Internet said in a statement it would investigate the claims and report back:

"In connection with the statement the company made earlier today about Scott Thompson, the Yahoo! board will be reviewing this matter, and upon completion of its review, will make an appropriate disclosure to shareholders."

AllThingsD's Kara Swisher reports that board members are "deeply concerned". It's the board that has the power to can him should his continued presence be deemed a liability to the company. (Swisher put together a well-balanced argument in relation to an interview Thompson gave in 2009, with audio included. It's worth a read.)

Perhaps this will all blow over with a simple explanation. If it doesn't, what's the worst that could happen?

Thompson could get fired (as if that wasn't obvious)

In the short term, it could be the worst-case scenario for the Yahoo chief executive. But the company would fare worse. It would be the second boss Yahoo would have fired in as many years, leaving the company looking weak and as though the board made a wrong choice. If Thompson is proved to have lied, questions will surely be raised of the vetting process behind his hiring.

Yahoo's code of ethics, as noted by Business Insider, says: "Make sure information we disclose about our company is clear, truthful, and accurate." There is an escape clause, but it has to be approved by the board.

Will they, won't they: it's anybody's guess.

Thompson could be investigated by the U.S. SEC

Long term, Thompson's major worry is a possible investigation by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. The allegations may not be as serious as fiddling the numbers in order to gain better traction in the market, but because his biography ported from eBay and Yahoo's pages into SEC filings in effect means either Yahoo or Thompson lied in a government report.

In the SEC filings, it lists the chief executive as having "received a bachelor’s in accounting and computer science from Stonehill College". Yahoo removed his bio from its website, but SEC filings stay in the system indefinitely.

It's not clear whether Yahoo could be investigated for deception as a result of the misleading filings. If the SEC decides to probe the former Web giant, which it is fully entitled to do, it could even lead to Yahoo companies suing Thompson over the claims. There's a whole range of factors, variables, and possibilities out there, and none of them are good.

Thompson loses credibility, and has to 'reboot'

But both short and long term, should Yahoo decide to keep him in play, and regardless of whether the U.S. SEC wants to take a jab at him, he will lose Silicon Valley support. Above all else lose respect from his employees.

Being a hardcore coder or techy isn't a prerequisite for holding a C-level position in the Valley. But the rapport he may have built up from the staff and his colleagues has effectively dropped overnight and it will be at least an arduous task --- and at most an impossible challenge to reclaim the respect he lost.

Either way, Thompson will not escape lightly --- in terms of employability, governmentally, or in terms of respect from his peers.

Image credit: CNET.

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Topics: CXO, IT Employment, Social Enterprise

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13 comments
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  • Ridiculous waste of time

    What exactly is a "bachelor???s in accounting and computer science"? Does it mean the person has a dual major? That he took a significant amount of courses? Etc. Especially 20+ years ago it was common to find people with accounting degrees working as coders. They learned the analytical skills necessary for system development, etc., in their accounting classes. If they were at the system-analyst level instead of just coding, for financial and similar projects they NEEDED a solid background in accounting.

    If he had NO CS courses at all then, yes, I'd say it's at least a minor problem. But he wasn't hired or promoted because he had a particular major decades ago that is not required for the job. He was hired because of the skills he developed AFTER college and his demonstrated performance.
    Rick_R
    • who cares

      Have you not notice people have to bitch about everything and anything. Oh well welcome to 2012
      Kiljoy616
    • no computer science degrees?

      Just to set the record straight, there were CS degrees awarded by major schools long before the 20 years you mention. I took my BS in Information and Computer Science from University of California, Irvine in 1972. That's 40 years ago.
      Shara8
    • At The Time That Scott Thompson Attended . . .

      . . . Stonehill offered only one CS course: Intro to Computer Science. So, it might as well have been no courses.

      I don't think the fact that he doesn't have a degree in CS is the issue, in and of itself. There are plenty of solid executives in the industry who have their degrees in other fields, and some with no degrees at all. I think that the greater concern is that he willfully lied about it. When a rank-and-file employee does is caught doing that on their resume' or some other official document, they tend to wind up terminated, or at least very heavily scrutinized. The impact of his position is such that doubts in his honesty and integrity can have much greater implications for his company.

      Granted, one could make the argument that a lot of people do this -- I think various studies have varied in the 30 - 40% range of the number of resume's with bogus information -- but, the fact is, he got caught, and is in a position where people either have to trust him, or they will take their investment money elsewhere.
      Whyaylooh
  • Agreed with Rick_R

    I have always had to work uphill because of my lack of Computer Science degree, and I have always quickly been recognized as the top coder in whatever company has hired me. This heavy reliance on letters after the name is so much bullshit, especially when applied 20-30 years ago.

    I work with recent CompSci graduates all the time, and their qualifications are fine, but truly good coding in a team environment is part science, part art, and a lot of experience.

    Obviously the guy must either know enough to do an excellent job, or the people who have promoted him are stupid in that they cannot tell poor performance from good. Firing him now would be an admission of stupidity on the part of the people who hired and promoted him.
    dimonic
    • Agreeing with dimonic

      Damn right! I have known many recent grads with CS degrees and mostly they are good people but not necessarily good coders. Programming is something you really can't teach in a school. You can give them the tools but you can't make them good, productive programmers. It takes much more than a few letters after your name.

      I began programming in 1961 and still occasionally cut code.
      Shara8
  • It's bad form to embellish one's resume and it destroys one's credibility

    A BS/MS/PhD in a discipline other than computer science (or even no uni degree) doesn't matter. Experience along with the ability to further one's education on one's own matter the most.

    Anyone remember what uni degrees Steve Jobs and Bill Gates have?
    Rabid Howler Monkey
  • Off with his head

    Sorry, this isn't about "letters after the name" or whether he attended just the right courses.

    It's about lying on resumes. The way the world keeps people from lying on their resumes is to fire every single one that gets discovered. Every. Single. One. Otherwise, resumes become so much garbage. And applying for jobs becomes a contest that goes to the biggest liar.
    Robert Hahn
    • It's an unfortunate result of the last 50 years

      There was once a time when a 4-year degree meant something - that you probably came from a wealthy family! These days, advanced education, like everything else, is now a business. Spend the money and you get the letters after your name. The more letters, the smarter you must be so the higher-up you go. Thompson must have been a couple of letters short and was forced to add them to get the position.

      Business needs to reboot and place more emphasis on intelligence and experience rather than degrees - the world doesn't need any more post-graduate dumb-asses, but they don't know that...
      Gr8Music
      • But there's the problem

        [i]Business needs to reboot and place more emphasis on intelligence and experience rather than degrees[/i]

        Isn't that what a degree is supposed to tell the employer? Otherwise, people could just lie about their intelligence and experience on their resumes.
        William Farrel
      • Unless it's Ford Motor, and your name is Ford

        [ul][i]There was once a time when a 4-year degree meant something - that you probably came from a wealthy family![/i][/ul]Really? How long ago was that? I ask because I'm pretty old myself, I have a degree from a place that some might even consider 'prestigious', and my family didn't have squat. I also know that that wasn't rare; the world is full of people who didn't have much and got ahead anyway.

        [ul][i]The more letters, the smarter you must be so the higher-up you go.[/i][/ul]Yeah, right. What are you, 20 years old? Two years out of college, you have gotten all the rocket boost you are going to get from your degree(s). After that, it's all about results.
        Robert Hahn
  • At least we know now why he wanted to sue Facebook

    he likely didn't understand the patent thing, but understood the money thing.

    This is the issue with accountents interfearing in tech issues they don't understand.
    William Farrel
  • Lying on your Resume

    "Thompson is alleged to have put a non-existent ???computer science??? degree on his resume when it transpires he was an accounting major."

    Try putting a non-existing college degree on your resume and let me know how that works out for you.
    bb_apptix