A reminder that nothing is for sure… is this story from TechCrunch. Sad is the only word that can be used here.

Yahoo!, once the icon of the New World of the Internet that it helped create, is now only a mere ‘holding company for Asian Internet assets’ according to Michael Arrington. Ouch!

You have to wonder what happens when a company with so much promise and so much vibrancy, a company that seemed to have it all – loses it all.

And in this case there is really no doubt. They had it all. And there is near consensus that they’ve lost every bit of the “all” they ever had. Every head-start, every property they ever bought, everything that they ever innovated and developed. And from the heights of the high… they are now only a shell. And as a business leader, you have to ask yourself why and how?

How could it be that a business entity with so much promise, technological might and financial strength could just so completely lose it?

Some ideas:

  1.  Replacing the Founders: Those whose vision created the company were removed early – and that neutered the company from its heart and soul. And by the time the Directors brought Jerry Yang back 3 years ago…he was so far from “The Source” of his own inspiration, that it was basically like bringing on another professional CEO. Except he wasn’t one. Along the way they went through one CEO experiment after another, each CEO trying to inject his own vision, his own agenda and, ultimately, his (or her) own ego-driven behavior, contributing to loss of direction. It’s OK – they are all still rich!
  2.  Greed and Gluttony: Instead of using its new found riches in a strategic thoughtful way – Yahoo’s CEOs used it to recklessly buy everything that moved without thinking. Many a millionaire and billionaire were minted on that decade long buying spree. But without a premeditated strategy – all that was bought was quickly lost. Geocities, Broadcast.com, Flickr, Delcio.us and many more. Focus and minimalism, which at the end of the day, have been the hallmarks of Google, would have served Yahoo! well. But there was little of either.
  3.  Vision and Leadership: You could say that the two above observations are all about that…but still I am calling Vision and Leadership separately as the number one reason for the decline…Leadership at the Board level, leadership at the management level – and the glaring lack of it. A lack of understanding of technology and its potential, a lack of understanding of what was bought and what to do with it – no cohesive thinking and and no vision – all dependent on one man or woman who wasn’t. The CEO that really never was … was the responsibility of the Board… so everyone was at fault…

Without a clear visionary leader who doesn’t just know how to dream, but how to manage to that dream, takes the company nowhere. As we saw with Apple in the non-Jobs days, even a company with amazing roots will stray far from the source and go in one of two directions: either become just a rich, pedestrian entity – a cash cow with no vision (as a friend of mine once called it) – making a lot of money for shareholders, but not inspiring, like IBM, or the post-Gates Microsoft, or even Research in Motion (the maker of Blackberry) or the other option – just wither like Yahoo!

Sad. But I believe fundamentally avoidable.