CEO Drama

Stop Picking on Yahoo CEO Scott Thompson!

The company’s chief is under fire for fudging part of his résumé. So what? He’s still perfectly capable. Plus, his critics have ulterior motives—and his competitors have all lied before.

05.05.12 8:45 AM ET

The Silicon Valley bloggerati are up in arms—they’re outraged!—over reports that Yahoo’s new CEO, Scott Thompson, appears to have fudged his résumé by including a computer-science degree that he in fact did not receive during an undergraduate career that ended more than 30 years ago.

“Résumégate,” they’re calling it, and demanding that Thompson, who joined Yahoo only five months ago, resign. Yahoo’s board of directors is conducting an investigation.

All this begs the question: Who cares? Thompson has a degree in accounting, not computer science, but frankly at this point in his career does it really matter what he studied as an undergraduate? He’s 54 years old, has been CEO of Paypal, and before that held high positions at Inovant, a subsidiary of Visa, and Barclays Global Investors. He’s qualified to run Yahoo.

But the larger issue is: who cares about Yahoo? 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.

Here’s the thing. The people howling about Résumégate don’t really care about Thompson’s credentials. They just want the guy out, for different reasons, and they see this résumé business as a pretext to get rid of him.

The guy who broke the news about the phony degree is Dan Loeb, a hedge-fund manager and activist shareholder whose company owns a
5 percent stake in Yahoo, making it the largest outside shareholder. He’s been pushing Yahoo to get rid of some board members and put him and three other nominees on the board instead. Yahoo won’t do it. So now Loeb creates a public-relations nightmare for them, and maybe this will help his chances of getting his board seats.

Valley bloggers are jumping on Thompson because in March he had the temerity to sue Facebook, claiming Facebook infringes on some Yahoo patents. That move made Yahoo a pariah in the Valley, where everyone is rooting for Facebook and nobody wants to rain on its $100 billion IPO, which is expected to take place later this month and which will create a halo effect that inflates valuations for all sorts of other companies.

So now Yahoo has become what Valley pundits call a “patent troll,” meaning a company that doesn’t really do anything valuable and just makes money by using its intellectual property to shake down companies for cash.

Funny, but these are the same pundits who cheer when Apple files lawsuit after lawsuit against Android phone makers.

See, that’s different. I’m not sure how. But it is.

Being a pundit in Silicon Valley is a lot like being in high school. It’s all about knowing who the cool kids are. Facebook is a cool kid. So is Apple. Yahoo is the loser kid that nobody likes. 

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But wait, the bloggers say, this Résumégate is a serious issue. Because Scott Thompson lied! He lied! Forgive me for being less than shocked at the idea of a CEO lying. Steve Jobs used to lie all the time, and he’s apparently the greatest CEO who ever lived. Google lied about taking money from Canadian pharmacies to run illegal drug ads, but finally had to come clean and pay $500 million in fines to settle the charges. 

Mark Zuckerberg last fall settled charges brought by the FTC that his company had made “unfair and deceptive” claims—I think that’s like lying—and, what’s more, had violated federal laws. That’s right—the claim was they broke the law! In fact, on the subject of lies, comb back through Zuck & Co.’s record and you’ll find no shortage of examples. Yet Zuckerberg still has his job.

Groupon’s initial IPO filing contained such ridiculous and misleading metrics that it had to rewrite it and take them out. Zynga’s CEO Mark Pincus was accused of making money by running scuzzy ads for supposedly free offers that actually tricked people into signing up for recurring cellphone charges.

Oh, but some CEO at Yahoo fudged his résumé and said he had a degree that he doesn’t really have, and now the highly ethical and honest folks in Silicon Valley cannot bear to have him in their midst.

Yes, by all means, off with his head.