When Scott Thompson signed on as Yahoo’s CEO at the start of the year, he probably had an idea of what he was in for, and the work it would take to do what several of his predecessors have been unable to do: turn Yahoo back into the success story it used to be before Google and Facebook went and ruined everything.
That hasn’t been going so well – at least not publicly. Last month, he announced Yahoo’s third round of layoffs since 2008, but with no actual growth plan attached with it, shareholders and analysts were unimpressed.
Now Thompson has a new problem to deal with: allegations that he padded his resumé.
Thompson has claimed on his personal bios (both at Yahoo and at PayPal, where he served as president) that he has a degree in computer science. Turns out he doesn’t, according to shareholder Dan Loeb of Third Point (which owns 5.8% of Yahoo).
Yahoo says the claim was “inadvertent”. IDC analyst Hadley Reynolds is skeptical, reports Network World Asia:
"There's no credible way that 10 years or so of public misrepresentation could be inadvertent," he said. "Also, I ... assume that Scott is personally responsible for the accuracy and veracity of Yahoo's SEC filings under Section 302 of Sarbanes-Oxley. If that's the case, he's at least culpable under those regulations for misrepresenting material info pertinent to investors, inadvertent slips in the curriculum vitae or no."
Yahoo says its board of directors is looking into it. Meanwhile, the IT/tech community in general seems to be piling on Thompson and demanding his resignation.
Which raises the question: will Thompson get sacked over this? Or, more to the point, should he?
I don’t know the answer. But I’ll bet PCCW chief Richard Li knows how he feels.
Way back in 2001, everyone found out that PCCW chief Richard Li did not have a degree in computer engineering from Stanford University, despite claims in his press bio that he did.
A lot of noise was made about it in the local media, much of it fuelled by populist anger that PCCW had used its stock value, inflated by the dotcom bubble, to buy Cable & Wireless HKT, only for its shares to plummet after the bubble burst.
But Li survived, and today remains chairman of PCCW.
Thompson may not be so lucky, not least because really, the “error” on his public CV is arguably beside the point. It’s been pointed out elsewhere that many people have been calling for Thompson’s head ever since he sued Facebook for patent infringement in March.
It’s also been suggested that Third Point – which, remember, unearthed the CV issue – wants Thompson out of the way so they can get more seats on the board.
Other critics say the real point is that Thompson not only misrepresented himself (or, put another way, lied), but did so in a basic, almost amateurish way. IDC’s Reynolds describes padding your CV as “the most bush-league of the many dissimulations available to ambitious executives”, but one that basically hands Thompson’s enemies a way to publicly question his “ethical judgment, professional competence, and basic intelligence” in one shot.
Big deal, says Dan Lyons (a.k.a. the guy who ran the Fake Steve Jobs blog, now tech editor of Newsweek): bigger-name CEOs have kept their jobs for worse lies than fudging one qualification on a resumé.
And in any case, Lyons adds, the real question isn’t whether Thompson is qualified to run Yahoo, but why anyone still cares:
This company long ago ceased to matter. It's had a string of CEOs, and none of them has managed to make anything out of this dog’s breakfast of a tech company. The place has been a mess for years, and probably will always be a mess, until it’s broken up and sold in pieces, or just dwindles away.
Well. I’m sure that makes Thompson feel better.