CEOs: See How They Run

There sat Amazon chief executive officer Jeff Bezos, up on the dais at the high-tech summit,telling investors, again, not to buy shares of dot-com stocks like hiscompany’s. It was sound advice, but I’m convinced it was just cover.

A distraction. I’m sure that as he spoke, just off-camera, anotherhalf-dozen e-commerce and Internet CEOs were sneaking out the back door,heading for higher ground and leaving behind a trail of unexercised options,confused employees and investors, and — above all — a growing sense thatconfidence and tech stocks are not words that belong in the samesentence.

That fight-or-flight instinct we hear so much about? These CEOs are choosingto turn and run, but don’t worry. It says more about them than it does aboutthe future of the Internet economy.

Good Riddance

What message is sent when a CEO flees the Net economy? (Or for thatmatter, the vice president of sales or overseas operations?)

Did they get in over their heads? Or does it say something even larger? Did they comeand see and decide there was nothing here to conquer?

No. I choose another option: I say the CEOs who are fleeing are wimps. Andwe neither want nor need them around.

Taking Exception

There may be some exceptions. If a CEO is in failing health, then the dot-com world — even this slower, more measured dot-com world — is no place forhim or her. And if a gold-medal opportunity comes along from the traditional world,the dream job that a CEO has always wanted, then he or she gets a pass as well.

Those forced out, either implicitly or openly, are also exempt fromcharges of cowardice. Unfortunately, we don’t know the full story behind the biggest departure ofrecent weeks — the decision by Yahoo’s Tim Koogle to step down. More timewith family, as the saying goes. Sounds like a mutually agreed upon reasonfor an involuntary departure to me.

Yahoo! Indeed

But let’s take Koogle at his word; it’ll be more fun that way. Why leave now?Yes, it’s become a difficult time to be at the head of Yahoo! After all, dropping out of the the profit club is no fun. As Koogle looked outacross the rest of 2001, he probably had a few holidays circled, but notmuch else. If there are bright spots out there, they’re hard to see throughthe clouds.

However, it is times like these when companies, no matter what their field of play, needleadership more than ever. Experienced leadership. Steady leadership.Leadership that doesn’t blink in a staring contest.

So the argument could be made that Koogle chose a good time to get out.Maybe he gave Yahoo! the chance to find someone who can steady the ship, abig name who can light a little fire under the stock price if nothing else.

But already we’ve heard word that the leading heavyweights aren’tinterested. It’s an “if elected, they will not serve” kind ofthing.

Hunting Heads

Part of the problem is the task Koogle leaves behind. It would be one thing for himto stand up and say he’s reduced Yahoo’s reliance on advertising toreasonable levels and has earnings back on track. But it’s another thing to leave and say, “Comeon in and do that work. And do it amid an oncoming recession.”

This is whythe stock took a beating after the trading halt was lifted the day Koogle’s announcement came. Better post that job on Monster.comsoon.

This is not to bash Koogle or any of the other hundreds of road-hitting dot-com CEOs personally. They served their purpose. They were the expansionistCEOs, the ones who gobbled up smaller companies in acquisitions and laidcompetitors aside in the battle over turf.

But a different job description is required now. And the first requirementshould be guts. Lots of guts.

What do you think? Let’s talk about it.

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Note: The opinions expressed by our columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the E-Commerce Times or its management.

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