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Hard Choices

Patti Hart on Stepping Down From Yahoo's Board


Patti Hart on Stepping Down From Yahoo's Board

Illustration by Jimmy Turrell

I was in Vienna on vacation with my son and husband. In the middle of the night, my phone started ringing, and my e-mail started flooding. Dan Loeb, a Yahoo (YHOO) investor, had accused [CEO] Scott Thompson of lying about his degree and challenged my academic credentials, too. I am one of the most vetted CEOs in the country. When I got a degree in business administration in 1978, my areas of focus were marketing and economics. Back then you only had broad-based degrees with areas of emphasis. At some point along the way, as press releases were being written, people highlighted the focus by saying I had a degree in marketing and economics. Scott had been portrayed as having a computer science and accounting degree. [It was in accounting.] It was a little ridiculous. Would we have hired Thompson if it did not say he had a degree in computer science? Yes.

The first call I made was to my chairman [Philip Satre]. I said, “I’m happy to take you through my credentials.” And he said, “That’s not necessary. Enjoy your vacation and take care of whatever you have to do.” I spoke to Scott a couple of times. He needed to hear: “Whatever your situation is around your credentials, I have great respect for you as a human being. A lot of people do a lot of wonderful things and have a few warts along the way in life, and that’s OK.”

Yahoo shareholders didn’t need a fight. I decided I would not stand for re-election. When I informed the board, they said, “We understand but can’t imagine this board without you. You’ve been the backbone.” There was never any pressure. I wasn’t going to let my PR department fight a battle that had nothing to do with IGT. The board, in its negotiations with the activist [Loeb], asked for those who weren’t standing for reelection to resign. I had no interest in serving in a boardroom with an activist shareholder this nasty to me. I was not a person to him. I was just an obstacle. The most disappointing thing was that we acted as a committee, and when I turned around, my committee wasn’t there. The decision to hire Scott was unanimous. When the public and the media began to paint this as a CEO liar who was hired by a liar, they didn’t come to my defense. Things don’t always go perfect. You have to act as a team. — As told to Diane Brady


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