The mystery of Jon Miller’s disappearing Yahoo board appointment has been gotten a little less mysterious. He isn’t taking the job because Time Warner (TWX), his former employer, won’t let him. What we’re not sure about: Whose story to believe.
Miller, who was pushed out of his job as AOL CEO in November 2006, is still bound by a non-compete that required him to get permission to take a seat on the Yahoo board. Multiple sources tell us that Miller and Yahoo sought and got Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes’ approval earlier this month. But last night, they say, Time Warner called both Miller and Jerry Yang and told them the deal was off.
Time Warner disputes that account. Spokesman Keith Cocozza says that Miller’s contract with Time Warner prevents him from working “for a variety of competitors, including Yahoo, until of March of 2009,” and that no one ever gave Yahoo or Miller the go-ahead.
We’re not exactly sure what to make of the conflicting stories: Keith talked to us on the record, and the people who are telling us the different version aren’t. But the pro-Miller, pro-Yahoo, camp’s story has the advantage of making much more sense: Obviously Miller and Yahoo would be well aware of the non-compete, and would have sought to get it ok’d well before announcing Miller’s candidacy in a press release July 21 (and subsequently filing the same document with the SEC).
Then again it’s hard to understand what would provoke Bewkes to change his mind: The company has made it clear that it thinks Miller made a mess of AOL during his tenure, one that they’ve had to spend a couple years trying to clear up. If he’s such a non-factor, who cares if he joins Jerry’s board?
A source familiar with the matter also suggests that Time Warner’s move also ensures that the company won’t be able to sell AOL to Yahoo, because “they’ve totally screwed Jerry.” We don’t find that convincing: Miller’s non-board seat may be embarassing for Jerry, but Jerry’s had to endure lots of ego-deflation since Microsoft first made its offer in February. If he and his brain-trust decide it makes sense to buy AOL, hurt feelings aren’t going to prevent that from happening.
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