Hard Choices: Carol Bartz of Yahoo!

I was adamant about not running another company after I left Autodesk (ADSK) in 2006. When I stepped down, I had been CEO for 14 years. We had gone through two or three downturns in the economy, shifts in technology, and the Internet. I just knew it was time to pass the torch.

When Jerry Yang and I were at a Cisco (CSCO) board meeting in 2008, he said, "Would you be interested in the Yahoo! (YHOO) job?" My immediate reaction was, "No. I'm not the right person. Find someone from the media." I was absolutely certain I wouldn't take the job. If I wanted to be a CEO, I would have stayed at Autodesk.

I wasn't sure whether I liked the business, but I was intrigued by the challenge. I didn't come out of this industry, but I didn't come out of the [computer-aided design] industry either when I went to Autodesk. As I explored Yahoo—reluctantly—I realized that what they needed was strong management at the top to streamline the organization and unlock the creativity. The company was siloed. People weren't speaking to each other. I had to be sold on taking the reins again, but the more I thought about Yahoo, the more I could see a role for me there.

I told Jerry and the board that I didn't have a plan, that I wouldn't have one until I got in there. I'm a good listener. I'm not afraid to make a decision, even the wrong one. My motto is "fail fast forward." You can fail, just do it fast and move forward. I think people get better when they fail. It's just the willingness to be wrong.

I didn't realize how much I'd missed the action until I joined. I'm in a different place now. I was totally naive when I went to Autodesk. I was no more a functional CEO than my dog is. That was really learning on the job, but it was a much quieter time in the industry. Nobody was tweeting my every move. I had pressure, but I didn't know what I was doing. This time, I had 17 more years of skills. There are some things age does bring you. I like to talk about careers as a pyramid, not a ladder. With a broad base of experience, you have a sturdier foundation.

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