The Week in Ethics: How will Yahoo’s Levinsohn Impact Culture?

Update: July 16, 2012 Marissa Mayer, a Google vice president, was selected CEO of Yahoo over interim CEO Ross Levensohn, who took over in May 2012 after Scott Thompson was fired.

Yahoo has been an ongoing stage for drama: CEO firings, fluctuating stock prices, selling rumors, restructuring/lay offs and cost cutting,  activist shareholder proxy fights, and board departures … all generating headlines and creating huge distractions for Yahoo’s approximately 13,000 employees.

In the last three years Yahoo has had three different CEOs — Carol Bartz, Scott Thompson and Ross Levinsohn, who was appointed interim CEO this week.

Levinsohn’s first memo to employees as interim CEO was leaked May 13, 2012; it provided employees with a copy of the press release announcing company changes, and said that the “unfortunate and serious distractions surrounding senior leadership” and board composition had ended.

He invited employees to ask him or members of senior management any questions and announced an all-company meeting would be held the next day. (At that meeting the new board chair indicated he wanted Levinsohn to become the permanent CEO.)

Levinsohn’s memo suggested a tone of openness and transparency that his actions over the next several months will either confirm or negate.

In the memo, Levinsohn (who joined Yahoo in 2010) indicated his three reasons for accepting the interim leadership role were: the strength of Yahoo’s brand and relationships with users and partners; his belief in the organizational and strategic processes underway; and his belief in Yahoo’s employees and their dedication to making the company great.

The pep talk and sense of new beginnings start another new page in a company that hasn’t had the stability of consistent leadership for a long time. Thompson’s brief tenure as CEO mired the company in a resume lie.

Interim or not, what Levinsohn reinforces he will get more of.

If his actions give life to Yahoo’s values – excellence (defined as winning by integrity), innovation, customer fixation, teamwork, community, and fun– he embeds them into “how we do business around here.”

Living corporate values increase trust, which increases productivity and reputation, a powerful business strategy.

Gael O’Brien       May 15, 2012

The Week in Ethics

Gael O’Brien is also a columnist for Business Ethics Magazine. Her May column is about corporate culture and bullying.

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