Another Yahoo Executive Shoe Drops: Display Ad Sales Chief Wenda Harris Millard

Following CEO Terry Semel’s departure as CEO on June 18, a lot of folks have been expecting further executives heading for the exits as new CEO and cofounder Jerry Yang and newly appointed President Sue Decker dig in. The latest to leave, announced today, is a biggie: Chief Sales Officer Wenda Harris Millard, who joined in late 2001, eight months after Semel joined. She landed a job as president of media at Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, on whose board she has served. But you don’t have to read too deeply between the lines of a statement by Greg Coleman, Yahoo’s executive VP of global sales, to understand this was a shove by Yahoo: “While Wenda was a big contributor to our success in the past, the industry has shifted and requires a different set of skills to take the business forward.” From an article in AdAge today, it sounds like this move has been in works for weeks, well before Semel’s departure.

David Karnstedt, who had been heading Yahoo’s search ad sales, will take over as head of both search and display ads in North America. Putting these together makes sense, at least conceptually, since advertisers increasingly need to coordinate all their ad spending, and they’ve complained that they have to deal with too many different Yahoo people to run broad campaigns.

But Millard’s departure likely won’t be universally seen as good news on Madison Avenue. Millard, as a former executive at Ziff-Davis and DoubleClick (which Google is spending $3.1 billion to buy), had a reputation as someone who understood the ad biz. Karnstedt and Yahoo will have to move quickly to deliver on their promise to “provide the most comprehensive set of end-to-end solutions that achieve a wide range of marketing objectives.”

Update: I talked with Greg Coleman tonight, and while he largely stuck to a script, one thing came through loud and clear: the need for Yahoo to change fast. Yahoo’s key need now, he told me, is “somebody that can lead change. We have to grab this right now and take the leadership”—“this” being Yahoo’s opportunity to combine search and display ads like no one else is doing yet today. Coleman said the combination of the search and display ad sales forces, which has happened informally so far, won’t result in layoffs. That is, if the plan works.

Staci Kramer at has a post on her interesting interview with Yahoo, which jibes with what Coleman told me—that this was several weeks in the making. Looks like Millard was offered the international ad sales job when her U.S. display ad duties were assigned to Karnstedt in May, but instead she decided to leave for Martha’s greener pastures. But not surprisingly, she wasn’t happy with the implication that her skills didn’t match Yahoo’s current needs, speculating that Yahoo was trying to play the move to avoid further criticism of the executive exodus there.