Yahoo: Deadwood or deck chairs?

The trickle of Yahoo executive departures has turned into an all-out flood, it seems, with at least two more senior VP types headed for the escape pods, and another — Brad “Peanut Butter” Garlinghouse — widely expected to join the exodus. But is this a much-needed clearing of the decks in order to put the good ship Yahoo on the right course, or is it rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic? In other words, is Sue Decker clearing out the deadwood, or setting fire to the furniture? There seem to be plenty of opinions on both sides.

According to commenters at Silicon Alley Insider (who appear to be Yahoo insiders) Qi Lu — who was executive VP in charge of search and ad technology — is either a genius (with 20 patents to his name, according to Kara Swisher) and the guy whose talents helped get Yahoo’s fancy new Panama engine up and running, or he’s the guy who is most to blame for the lateness of Panama in the first place and the lacklustre performance of it after it finally launched. Or maybe Yahoo doesn’t need any more search geniuses now it has gotten in bed with Google?

As for Garlinghouse, he’s the guy who diagnosed Yahoo’s problems as “spreading the peanut butter too thin” in an infamous memo that got widely leaked in 2006. Was that just a play for power within the Yahoo executive suite, or was Brad really sincere about the company’s need to change? Whatever his motivation, it appears that Yahoo will be changing without him, according to TechCrunch and PaidContent (Kara says he hasn’t quite decided yet). Given that he’s in charge of Yahoo Mail, Messenger, Groups and Flickr, his departure would leave a pretty large hole. Does Yahoo have the bench strength to fill it?

One commenter at Silicon Alley Insider makes an interesting point: everyone says that Yahoo is too bloated with executives and top-heavy and management-centric and so on, but then when the company shoves some people out the door (or fails to respond when they decide to leave) everyone says the rats are fleeing the sinking ship. The big question is: do Sue Decker and Jerry Yang have a vision for whatever’s left once all the departures are done with?

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