Yahoo’s Carol Bartz: Lessons in burning bridges

Posted September 8, 2011 in Latest News & Insights

So Yahoo CEO Carol Bartz has been punted from her position for what appears to be a general lack of ability to meet the Board’s revenue expectations.  Her defense is that the money’s coming in next year, but we all know how that argument flies in this “show me the money” work world.  Apparently, Ms. Bartz wasn’t too thrilled with her ousting and fired off this never-to-be-lived-down quote…

“The board was so spooked by being cast as the worst board in the country,” Ms. Bartz said. “Now they’re trying to show that they’re not the doofuses that they are.”

Classic.  She is also quoted in Fortune as saying “these people f**ked me over”.  Nice.

Now, Bartz has a reputation for being a bit of a pottymouth, having let the “f-bomb” slip on more than one occasion, and there’s a BIG part of me that totally applauds her for having the guts to call it like it is and not mince her words.  You go girl.  But is this a realistic exit strategy for most of us?

One thing to remember, should you decide to go out guns ablazin’ is that you’ll have to be prepared to live with the consequences.  For those who would prefer not to torpedo any career bridges, here’s how to move on with grace, should you find yourself unfairly ousted:

  1. Zip it… as much as it probably felt great for Carol Bartz to call the Yahoo board a bunch of doofuses, it’s probably not going to help her future prospects.  The words “loose cannon” get brushed all over that type of behaviour.  If you’re low on emotional restraint, get a venting partner immediately and spend 15 minutes spewing every four letter word you need to get out of your system.  Just make sure your venting partner isn’t a business reporter for Fortune Magazine.
  2. Leave before it gets ugly… chances are, Bartz knew well ahead of time that she wasn’t meeting the board’s expectations around revenue (and maybe they were stupid expectations).  Regardless, don’t think you can take down a group wielding more power then you.  If you don’t agree with the direction that’s been pushed, leave before you get bitter and before they ditch you.
  3. Keep your fingers to yourself… if you get ousted, finger-pointing isn’t going to help your case or change the outcome.  Rise above the “he said, she said” stuff and let your actions speak for you by staying calm, cool and positive.
  4. Smile and nod… when asked for opinions on the company’s future direction or what your former department should be doing or what your replacement needs to consider, take a page out of George Bush’s books and refrain from comment.  I’ve yet to hear Bush slam Obama and when he’s cornered he just smiles, nods and deflects the question.
  5. Take a breather… being fired can be devastating to anyone’s ego and, for those of us who get a lot of enjoyment/reward/recognition from our work, it can be very hard to bounce back.  Try to remember that, in most firings, the big issue is often lack of fit.  Take the opportunity to step back and re-evaluate what environments you are best suited to lead in.  And, recognize that, if you were in an untenable situation due to a bad boss or a board with unrealistic expectations, that’s their issue… not yours.  Dust yourself off and get back on that pony.

It will be interesting to see how Carol Bartz’ outburst will affect her over the long-term.  With a strong track record, most successful people can bounce back and Bartz’ exit behaviour is pretty consistent with her behaviour when she was CEO, so her reputation is pretty well known. We’ll see if this is the straw that breaks the career camels back.

Happy leading!

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  1. That guy says:

    Carol made about $75 million in the past couple of years. I don’t think she gives a hoot, and nor would I. She was more right than anyone would know unless you worked at Yahoo! (which I have), and I would wager that her exit strategy will only make her look better should she ever decide to work again. It is worth noting that, after this episode, she offered her resignation from a fortune 500 Board (as per its rules) and had her resignation declined.


    • LeaderTalker says:

      Yeah… I think Carol’s already been offered a job with another company that basically said she could come in and do whatever she wanted. Just shows that when you have a killer track record (and more money than you need), anything is possible. Great incentive to work hard, prove yourself and then be able to write an FU ticket when you hit your fifties. LOL. And frankly, I think if her name had been Carl (instead of Carol) nobody would have raised more than an eyebrow about calling people doofuses. Thanks for posting a comment. Glain