Yahoo: Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain

People make mistakes. We make bad choices, flawed decisions, say or do things we wish could be called back, take calculated moves based on the wrong data. Some face another test: how to handle the fallout.

They probably shouldn’t use Yahoo CEO Scott Thompson as a template. Thompson could have ‘fessed up when his resume padding was revealed by Third Point CEO Daniel Loeb during a proxy battle. He could have explained why he decided to claim a phantom degree in computer science or to let it stand if it started as a mistake by someone else.

In the past, that was best accomplished by telling your story to an interviewer who would be tough but fair. Today, he easily could have gone direct via a blog post or a memo. He even could have gone Kanye by taking it to Twitter.

With the right explanation and tone, a sincere apology and possibly some kind of penalty like a cut in pay, Thompson and the Yahoo board might be able to escape major fallout from this tornado.

Instead, Thompson is channeling the Wizard of Oz, first ducking behind a company statement about an “inadvertent error” and promise of a probe, then telling fellow Yahoos in a terse e-mail posted at All Things D:

I am sure you have seen the reports of questions raised regarding my undergraduate degree. As we said yesterday, the board is reviewing the matter and, upon completion of its review, will make an appropriate disclosure to shareholders.

In the meantime, Thompson urges everyone to ignore the yipping dog, pulling the curtain back to reveal a mere mortal operating a machine rather than a all-knowing wizard. (Taking this analogy all the way, that would make Loeb Toto but not gonna go there.)

… I’m doing what I hope all of you are doing — staying focused on our customers, our shareholders, our team and moving Yahoo! forward, fast.

True, Thompson has much more to focus on: getting a vital Ali Baba stake sale done, dealing with the aftermath of laying off some 2,000 employees and executing the massive re-org that started May 1. It’s hard to believe anyone involved at the company wants to go through another CEO switch at this point. It’s even harder to believe Thompson or anyone else on the board wants to be perceived as giving into Loeb’s demands that he be fired by Monday at noon. Kara suggests the current board will turn the whole problem over to the new one, which places any resolution weeks out and ostensibly gives Thompson time for a win with a sale of the Ali Baba stake.

What do I really think? I think this cursed board will maintain its 100 percent score of doing the wrong thing at the right time.

But from another perspective, the anemic response and lack of any admission of personal responsibility so far may force swifter action.

If Thompson ends up joining the ex-Yahoo CEO club due to this, it won’t be because of the false degree claim. It will be over the way he responded.

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