In a New York Times story about the firing of Yahoo chief operating officer Henrique de Castro, there appears the following passage:
"In the end, the whole misadventure might not matter unless [Yahoo CEO Marissa] Mayer is able to redirect the company away from its failing core business of selling display ads." (Emphasis ours.)
Really? Yahoo's "core business" is selling ads? That's like saying Target's core business is running checkout lines. One would have thought that Yahoo's core business is developing and hosting websites and services that (it is hoped) attract an ever-increasing population of devoted users and on which -- if they're successful -- ads can be sold. Placing the selling of ads at the center of the business plan, as though once you do that everything else will follow, is mistaking the scoreboard for the game.
To be fair, the definition of Yahoo's core business is the Times', not Yahoo's. But it does reflect confusion about the company's mission that plainly emanates from Yahoo headquarters in Sunnyvale.
What is Yahoo, exactly? It's been hard to say for years, under a succession of CEOs dating back to Tim Koogle, who left in 2001, and continuing from Terry Semel to
That dispiriting trend was supposed to end with the appointment of Mayer, but Yahoo is still an indefinable glop.
Yahoo shares have doubled since Mayer's arrival, but much of the rise appears to be based on the company's holdings in the Chinese e-commerce company Alibaba. The top line hasn't budged, except to drift down, and Wall Street's thrill over Mayer is starting to turn brown at the edges.