Tuesday, June 19, 2007

David Beats Goliath

We've been talking about this story for a while....Activist shareholder Eric Jackson using Web 2.0 tools (social networking, his blog, a wiki, YouTube, MySpace etc) to organize Yahoo shareholders against Yahoo management. Well, unless you've been under a rock yesterday, you would have seen that Terry Semel, the man that Jackson was calling for to step down, resigned as CEO of the company to be replaced by Jerry Yang, co founder of Yahoo and one of Jackson's suggestions. I'm not saying that Jackson single handedly caused Semel's resignation but what I am saying is that Jackson was able to control a little under 2 million shares with his 100 shares from these Web 2.0 tools and a bit of publicity.

The story here is not necessarily one of how Semel stepped down but its about how good ideas can be spread rapidly through these new Web 2.0 tools. Diet Coke and Mentos was another interesting idea that caught on because of online video and its popularity soared with the video sharing sites (including YouTube). Ipods dirty secret also attracted many viewers and caused backlash against the popular mp3 player. The Dell laptop fires are another. Communication online is becoming ever more transparent and the Jackson example is an extreme one of how one person asked how Semel was able to justify his salary and his options given how Yahoo has fared against Google. Sure, the rest of the Street also did not favor him but I think that Jackson proved that sometimes a meritocracy works.

On the other hand, I'm sure IR folks that read this blog are wondering about how something like this could affect their company. No one wants a guy like Jackson against you. He's relentless. However, I think Apple's response to dirty secret is the suggested way to go: Admit that your product is not perfect. Dell tried to sweep the dust under the rug. Bad move. People will out you and your deception will simply add fuel to the fire. Be open. Admit mistakes. Admit that you're not perfect. No one can fault you for that. Not even Eric Jackson (who is now having dialogues with Semel according to his blog).

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