Yahoo's Depressing Backup Plan

No one wants to buy Yahoo. And the only person who wants to run Yahoo is an insider who helped sink it. Is there any hope left for the beleaguered Web giant?

A ludicrously patchy trial balloon lifted off this week, airing the notion that Microsoft might fund some kind of complex buyout of Yahoo, at a knockdown price of $20 billion — less than half what Microsoft offered last February. It was swiftly shot down: If Microsoft wanted to get its hands on Yahoo, why would it loan someone else the money to buy it?

Yahoo's Depressing Backup Plan

Another tall tale is making the rounds: that Sue Decker, Yahoo's president, is still a candidate to replace founder Jerry Yang, who's stepping down from the CEO job after a disastrous year and a half. (Anyone care to bet on whether one of the "sources familiar with the search" who told CNET News that Decker was a contender was Decker herself?)

Decker, a former investment banker, wrecked her credibility with Wall Street through overoptimistic forecasts. Never a strong manager, she similarly killed whatever loyalty Yahoos had left for her through her mistreatment of key underlings. (She had Wenda Harris Millard, Yahoo's former U.S. sales chief, locked out of her office over the weekend when Millard told Decker she was planning to leave — and only months later thought to invite Millard to a farewell party, which Millard refused to attend.)

What Decker has going for her: She's already in place, and is a known quantity. If Yahoo's CEO search utterly fails to find an outside candidate and doesn't settle on a board member, Decker is the board's only option. John Chapple, a board member who was previously CEO of Nextel Partners, has said he's no longer interested. One of the outside possibilities, Vodafone CEO Arun Sarin, has reportedly dropped out. Another, former Autodesk CEO Carol Bartz, has yet to express any enthusiasm. But what does it matter that you have a known quantity, when you have taken that quantity's measure and found it lacking? Insiders whisper that Yang, Yahoo's dithering founder, is loyal to a fault, and that's the only reason Decker has not been fired.

If Yahoo ends up with no choice but Decker, it will surely spell the end of the company. What options will she have, other than to sell it at a cut-rate price to Microsoft?

How depressing for a company once worth more than $100 billion, which promised to bridge Hollywood and Silicon Valley and dominate new media. It still has formidable assets, and valuable businesses. Why does no one know what to do with them?