It's time to finally end the Microsoft-Yahoo stalemate, and I've got a few suggestions.
It’s time to finally end the Microsoft-Yahoo stalemate, and I’ve got a few suggestions.
I know Steve Ballmer said last week that acquisition talks are “over.”
Of course, he doesn’t want to buy the whole train wreck.
But Ballmer also reminded everyone at Microsoft’s annual shareholder meeting in Bellevue that he’s still interested in Yahoo’s search business.
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He’ll get it eventually, but it’s like watching a bad mystery or Seattle building light rail: exciting at first, but once you figure out the ending, it starts putting you to sleep.
What’s the holdup, now that regulators pushed Google out of the picture?
One take is that Microsoft hasn’t been able to figure out whom to negotiate with in Sunnyvale. It went nowhere with the wishy-washy board of directors or the flip-flopping Chief Yahoo, Jerry Yang.
With Yang deciding last Monday to step down as chief executive, and a replacement search under way, Ballmer has an opportunity.
To win a favorable deal — and let Microsoft and Yahoo employees get back to work — all he has to do is surreptitiously get Yahoo to hire the right person to replace Yang.
How hard can it be? Microsoft should be able to pull strings with executive recruiters. It also has PR people who can leak candidate names to reporters keeping the “Microhoo” story alive.
Best of all, Ballmer doesn’t have to look far for the perfect Yahoo job candidates. There are several right here in town, probably on the bar stool next to his at the Overlake Golf & Country Club’s 19th hole.
• Paula Reynolds, a chief executive who moves fast and cuts deep. She also knows how to run a company that’s been a pillar of the community, the way Yahoo is in Silicon Valley.
Not long after Reynolds took the helm at Safeco, she began cutting hundreds of jobs. Then she sold its landmark headquarters building in the University District.
Reynolds also closed a deal with Microsoft, selling the insurer’s Redmond campus to the software company next door. The moves helped her net $14 million in 2006; more important, they positioned the company for change. In April she sold what remained of Safeco to Boston-based Liberty Mutual Group for $6.1 billion.
She was decisive and a hit with Safeco’s big shareholders.
• If Reynolds isn’t interested, perhaps Ballmer could talk her husband into it.
Steve Reynolds became chief executive of Bellevue-based Puget Energy in 2002. Last year, he orchestrated its sale to a consortium of investors from Australia and Canada for around $7 billion.
It’s been tricky getting regulatory approval of the deal. But that’s just the sort of experience needed to help Yahoo sell its search business to Microsoft, or at least form a partnership.
Especially with Google — the tech company coziest with President-elect Barack Obama — looking for revenge.
• There’s also Alan Fishman, Washington Mutual’s chief executive for 18 days before feds seized the bank and sold its assets to JPMorgan for $1.9 billion.
Ballmer’s tight with JPMorgan and Goldman Sachs, so perhaps he could get advice from Jamie Dimon and Henry Paulson.
It’s a longshot, but maybe Yahoo’s melting stock and executive exodus could justify a federal liquidation. Better than a bailout, right?
They just need to get Fishman on a plane to Sunnyvale.
Brier Dudley’s column appears Mondays. Reach him at 206-515-5687 or email@example.com.