I always enjoy listening to Yahoo CEO Carol Bartz. Even as Yahoo continues to redefine itself under her watch, she always comes across as a straight-shooter, someone who will say it like it is rather than hem-haw around a question.
She spent some time on stage with John Battelle today at the Web 2.0 conference, fielding questions on everything from Facebook and Alibaba to social networks and distributed content. She obviously avoided answering questions about rumors of a buyout by private equity firms or an acquisition by AOL.
That just comes with being the CEO of a public company. Of course, she's more than just that. She's an editor-in-chief and publisher now that Yahoo is pushing itself further and further into the news business. You know, they push out the content that they think their users want and serve ads that they think - via their data - that will benefit both user and advertiser. That's the news business - except that it operates in real time and the front page of her news product is personalized 6 million different ways. That's how many combinations it uses to offer something that the usage data suggests will be appealing to the reader - especially on mobile. "When the screens get small, you can't waste a pixel. You have to serve people information they find educational, informational and entertaining."
She's also the head cheerleader for her company, but not in the sense that one might think. She acknowledges that Yahoo has gone through its rough patches and that it's still working on merging its valuable user data out of their niche silos so the company can do more. "I don't think you're tested as a person or a company until you've faced some tough times.
But she's not necessarily rah-rahing every product either, as much as she's instead talking Yahoo for what it is, as opposed to what it isn't. She was asked if the long term growth aspirations of a company like Yahoo is to be the size of Google. She replied:
Of course, who wouldn't aspire to be a Google? But that's not an environment we're in. We're Yahoo. We're not Google. They're a terrific company but one of the first things we did was to explain to people that we're not Google.
They're also not Facebook - though that company's recent push into mail and messaging likely now make them a competitor, a word Bartz used to describe the company. With that said, Facebook also doesn't own the word social. She said:
Social is about human interaction. There's the kind that Facebook does, which, again is a fantastic company. There's also email and messenger, interactive ads and web sites... We're not trying to copy anybody. We're trying to enhance the user experience on Yahoo.
One of the questions thrown at her was about Alibaba, specifically what it would take to get rid of Alibaba? She was clear that Yahoo has no interest in getting rid of Alibaba and went on to praise Yahoo for its smart investment some five years ago in Alibaba. "A billion as turned into many billions. It was a very very smart investment," she said.
On a personal level, her no-nonsense approach comes with dashes of humor and sarcasm and good sportsmanship. To close her interview, she was given one of those fun quizzes where you say the first word that comes to mind when you someone says a word to you. The words and her replies:
- Apple? Beatles. (with a quick wink to the audience)
- Twitter? Tweet.
- Microsoft? Partner.
- Facebook? Competition
- HP? Where's Leo?
- Google? A great company.
A video clip from this conversation will be available later this week. We’ll embed it when the conference organizers release it. A livestream of the events is being made available by conference organizers.