We asked folks to weigh in on Carol Bartz, the former Autodesk CEO and Yahoo’s newest CEO candidate. Thanks to all for the excellent responses. Some excerpts below:
Carol is one of the brightest and toughest CEO’s in valley history. She grew Autodesk from a small 250M company to a billion dollar venture. Along the way the company became the dominant company in it’s sector. On her first day at Autodesk, she was diagnosed with cancer. She took 30 days off for agressive treatment and, as promised, returned to work a month later. She was still very sick and feeling the effects of continuing chemotherapy. She would arrive early and puke in the parking lot, then go to work. She’s a very smart manager. One of the reasons Autodesk did so well is that she iknows how to run a very tight and lean enterprise. I have no doubt she can do the restructuring and cost cutting part of what is needed at Yahoo. She can certainly shape the company up financially and structurly. You are right, however, about her experience in the consumer space. What I do know about her is that she knows what she doesn’t know. She’s a fast study and will surround herself with very smart people. Carol is a real talent. They could do worse.
I was at Autodesk 2003 – 2007. There’s no doubt that Carol was very smart and very perceptive. But, she relied on her staff (most Carl Bass) to do most of the thinking and implementation. One can argue that this is the job of a CEO, but like most ex-Sales people, Carol was not a visionary. She was a strong organiser/director. What I found appalling, though, was that she only worked 1 ½ – 2 days/wk on adsk business. The rest was on external board related stuff (boards that she sat on) and her personal time. If Yahoo wants a part-time CEO, who is not a visionary—she’d be a great choice.
I don’t know Carol Bartz personally but her reputation for years has been as “generic CEO”. Autodesk has been one of the stodigest companies in the valley the whole time she has been there. She was always on the shortlist for big CEO jobs literally going back to the mid 90’s — she was always on any list put together by any recruiter — but always just stayed at Autodesk. I assume she is a fine board member of Intel and Cisco but I would observe that it is very hard to find female CEO’s to put on boards out here, and a lot of diversity pressure. If they do hire Carol Bartz, one upside surprise in the hire is that she actually does have a technology/software background. That was not a requirement going into the search.
I’m not sure Carol is a real candidate, but I’ve known/watched Carol for nearly 20 years; going back to her days at Sun, where she led services.
Her historical strengths are well documented:
– she understands how to pursue, build, and execute on consensus themes. Autodesk was a zero sum gain until she put the company on another trajectory. Autodesk may not be exciting by today’s web standards, but it was a company with massive potential, which then failed to capitalise on an immense market lead. Sound familiar? Carol came in and uprighted the company and set it back on the path to regaining the stature it deserved.
– her relationships with internal teams/leadership and external influencing sources has been thoroughly tested and she earns very high marks from everyone
– she is extremely customer/market driven
– she has a fondness for great engineering
– she is very prudent about which challenges she takes on and she has rarely failed
Her perceived weaknesses might be:
– she has never mingled with the web fanboy club so the perception will be that while web business execution relies on many of the same principles of software business execution, her new audience may not understand
– her age may hinder her ability to secure support internally. Her efforts to make a multi-billion dollar company successful may be thwarted by those who believe web success only requires 4 good developers and a few hundred k in start up funding
Yes; she commuted to Autodesk in a limo. She had “retired” from Sun when Autodesk recruited her. She was not going to move and the commute sucked. She figured out a clever way to resolve the issue, which allowed her to be productive during what would normally be downtime. Frankly, I like that kind of thinking.
In summary; focus on her demonstrated abilities to execute because that is what Yahoo has failed to accomplish.
When Carol Bartz took over Autodesk, it was a Programmer’s Paradise. She kicked some serious @$$ and put in a real management structure. And fought breast cancer at the same time. A few years later when the dotbomb was about to drop, she has the foresight to cut to the bone in advance. As a result Autodesk was able to rebuild later and went on a real growth spree. She doesn’t have specific web/consumer experience, but I think Yahoo needs a strong leader at the top. Anybody who thinks Bartz will play second fiddle (as one commentor suggested) does not know what they are talking about.
She has zero web chops. That’s the answer.
AUTOCAD is a non competitor leader. 3D studioMax, Maya and other are just softwares Autodesk clients use togheter with AUTOCAD. She is not the ideal leader for a in-troubles company, surrounded by new competitors every day. In addition, Yahoo need to focus its businees line, fired no money-maker apps. Autodesk fortune is on its perfect program, Autocad, very special, very powerfull, but just ONE! Media company business it’s more like the ocean, and Autodesk lives on Everest top.
Good news and bad news: Good: hard nosed ceo; public co experience, accomplished and successful, good relationships and wall street cred. Has already told Decker she is out. Bad News: Zero internet experience. Loves engineering so she will try to compete w/ google. Limo’s to work every day (great, another prima donna). 60 years old and not in touch with consumers who actually may use her product. No consumer experience Question marks: Will Jerry stay or go. If he stays, because Y needs “internet” experience, she is doomed and Y is doomed. What is her strategy???
Her negs are such that she really needs to answer the strategy question (“where should we focus?” remains the fundamental challenge) so successfully to allay concerns that she doesn’t really understand the business. then obviously her ability to bring in a team that can execute incredibly well (and in this case they’re going to need to make axelrod/plouffe look like laurel/hardy if they’re going to pull it off) and bring in the expertise she lacks.
Bartz is another Fiorina — a *superstar* CEO whose reputation precedes their ability. The market’s focus on CEO’s is absurd. Companies are organisations composed of many, many actors. Bartz’s success is based upon the excellent organisation at Autodesk which built itself (Yes, Virginia, companies are often self-organising.) on a great product in a growing market with the right trends.