Flickr Founders, Executives Jumping Off Yahoo Ship

“Never let go”

Yahoo is treading on dangerous waters.  Amidst a hostile takeover attempt by Carl Icahn, CEO Jerry Yang and Yahoo’s board struggle with the ramifications of their campaign to keep their company from Microsoft at all costs.  Their decisions may in the end have sealed their own departures from the company and have sent company shares sliding downwards, approaching pre-merger-speculation levels.

Now it has been announced that some key executives are jumping ship from Yahoo.  Leading the way are Stewart Butterfield and Caterina Fake, the husband-wife team that founded the photo-sharing service Flickr, a current Yahoo property.  Yahoo spokeswoman Terrell Karlsten announced the departure Wednesday, commenting only that they would be pursuing “another opportunity”.

Only a year after creating Flickr, the pair sold it in 2005 to Yahoo for a reported $35 million.  Because of their site’s loyal following, Butterfield and Fake were included in the 2006 list of Time magazine’s list of the world’s most important people.  The move was not a major surprise as Fake had already moved to another Yahoo division and Butterfield was taking a lengthy paternity leave.  With the departures, Kakul Srivastava who became general manager of the Flickr team in April will continue his leadership position.

While the departure of Butterfield and Fake might not be particularly alarming, three other recent departures came as a bit more of a surprise.  Two Yahoo executive vice presidents, Jeff Weiner and Dr. Usama Fayyad put in their resignations in the last month.  Yahoo has kept relatively silent about these resignations, which has lead to whispering in the internet community over whether the failure of the Microsoft deal could have been their motivation to leave.

Weiner headed Yahoo’s search engine and e-mail services.  He is now an “executive in residence” at two venture capital businesses, Accel Partners and Greylock Partners.  Dr. Fayyad was the head of Yahoo’s data mining and user data analysis efforts, which aided ad targeting.  Dr. Fayyad has not announced his official plans.

To top it off, Jeremy Zawodny another Yahoo veteran executive who helped found the Yahoo developer network and push Yahoo towards open source, is leaving.  He posted the news on his blog.  He asserted that he was leaving to pursue another opportunity, not because of Yahoo’s struggles.

Executive turnover rates in tech companies are extremely high.  Even Google, perhaps the most successful tech company for its size is not immune to leadership losses.  And the titan of the tech industry — Microsoft — has lost some of its own, with the departure of founder Bill Gates and the impending departure of Steve Ballmer 10 years from now.

Thus it is likely unjustified to jump to conclusion that Yahoo’s losses are directly attributable to its trials and tribulations.  However, one salient point to consider is that regardless of the reason behind the departures, leadership losses can shake even a company in a very stable financial position.  Given Yahoo’s tenuous grip on its business niche, these losses, though perhaps unavoidable, may take a greater toll on the already floundering company.

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