Yahoo's new CEO, Carol Bartz, was at her career peak in 1992. Named CEO of design-software maker Autodesk, she'd beaten cancer, defeated a clique of ornery geeks, and hobnobbed with a president. Where'd she go?
Over the next dozen years, her relentless upward trajectory took a pause. She'd moved up the org chart from 3M to DEC to Sun Microsystems, where she was vice president of worldwide field operations, a top sales post. Then she went to Autodesk, becoming the first female CEO of a major software company; was briefly celebrated as one of the "top women of the '90s" alongside the likes of Jodie Foster; got invited to President Clinton's first economic summit; and disappeared.
Yes, Autodesk grew from $300 million in sales to $1.5 billion before she stepped down as CEO in 2006. But the company's software, mostly used by architects and product designers, was hopelessly obscure. A 2004 profile in Business 2.0 was the last major look at her career.
Bartz is no egomaniac; she's pleasantly folksy, dressing down in jeans for an interview with BusinessWeek at the time of her resignation from Autodesk. But there has always been an undercurrent of resentment that she has not won more attention. It shows, at times — like a speech she gave students at Stanford University, where she started a speech by carping about all the empty chairs. And while she's unpretentious about her looks, she's glammed up noticeably in the past decade — which, sad to say, still seems to be a prerequisite for a woman to rise in corporate America.
if Bartz secretly craves attention, she surely got it by taking Yahoo's top job. The company has been better known as a source of drama than of innovation. Here's what we know about Bartz:
Fearless. When she joined Autodesk, it was run, unofficially, by a small group of engineers known as "the Core" who were loyal to batty founder John Walker and had all but deposed her predecessor, a nebbishy accountant who didn't use email. Bartz imposed order over them when she joined in April 1992, even as she found, on her second day on the job, that she had developed breast cancer. She delayed treatment until June and took only four weeks off. She called an executive she'd been trying to recruit from her hospital room, hours after a radical mastectomy. He took the job.
Blunt and profane. Bartz once walked into a meeting and said, "Tell me why I shouldn't fire the lot of you." She likes to drop the f-bomb. In 2004, she summarized Wall Street's bubble-earromance with now-forgotten dotcoms as "Used-Fucking-Golfballs.com," and questioned a rival's entry into her market by asking, "What the fuck does Adobe know about engineering drawings?" Yesterday, at her first all-hands meeting, she promised to "dropkick to fucking Mars" anyone who leaked information to blogs.
A loving if terrifying mom. Bartz has three children and is married to Bill Marr, a retired Sun executive. More magazine described her family's reaction to her 2006 retirement:
When she told her daughter, Layne, 17, the news, "She looked at me like I was crazy." Bartz's husband, Bill Marr, who retired 10 years ago, warned her, "Don't expect you're going to come be CEO of the house and boss us around." "They were terrified," Bartz says, laughing.
Bartz showed up in jeans to the BusinessWeek interview because she'd spent the morning hanging out with her daughter:
She's in back-to-back meetings at a Starbucks near her home, dressed in jeans and an orange sweater, wearing no makeup. Earlier that morning Layne, who's anxiously awaiting responses from colleges, crawled into bed with her, something she hasn't done since she was a child. "She's more stressed than I've ever seen her," Bartz says. "I knew something was wrong and so I just hung." All the while, she knew the clock was ticking on a breakfast meeting she had scheduled. She comforted her daughter, threw on clothes, and raced out, already late. "The concept of balance is perfection," she says, miming a seesaw motion. "And that's crazy."
The kid seems to have turned out okay. Layne graduated from Sacred Heart Preparatory School that year, debuted at the Peninsula Ball, and is now a junior at the University of Southern California, according to Facebook. She has not posted anything embarrassing about herself on MySpace, as best Google can tell.
Wealthy, but grew up poor. Bartz and her family live in Atherton, Calif., the wealthiest ZIP code in America. Yahoo paid her a signing bonus of $10 million in cash and stock, with a salary of $1 million a year and a bonus that ranges from $2 million to $4 million a year. That's actually not a vast improvement over what she made at Autodesk 16 years ago, when her salary was $650,000; she also reportedly made $230 million from her Autodesk stock options. If she's driven to make that kind of money again at Yahoo, it will be because of her upbringing. More magazine relates her childhood and young adulthood:
Carol Bartz's early story is one of vulnerability — and the refusal to be vulnerable. She was born in the town of Winona, Minnesota, in 1948, to a mother with a chronic, disabling disease. Shirley Bartz died when Carol was 8 and her brother, Jim, was 8. For the next few years, Carol would drop Jim off at the sitter's on her way to school and pick him up on the way home. Their father worked at a feed mill for $40 a week. His idea of discipline was to beat the children with a belt.
When Bartz was 12, her grandmother, Alice Schwartz, took her and Jim to raise in her own home, 30 miles away, in Wisconsin. Schwartz was smart, supportive, loving, and strong. Encouraged to succeed, Bartz bloomed: In high school, she was a majorette, the homecoming queen, and one of just two girls in her physics and advanced algebra classes.
She found another home of sorts in the bank where her Sunday-school teacher was president, working her way up from secretary to teller. Like any person with clear memories of money struggles, Bartz remembers every decimal of those early paychecks. She earned 75 cents an hour as a teller. Right after she graduated from high school, the bank managers realized they owed her back pay because of a change in the minimum wage, and gave her a check for $350. It was "the biggest windfall in my life," says Bartz, who years later would cash in $11 million in Autodesk stock options in one year. "It was an incredible amount of money to me."
The bank managers also helped Bartz get a scholarship, allowing her to go to William Woods, an elite all-girls college in Fulton, Missouri. She wasn't one of the crowd, though; she had a job in the cafeteria serving food to the wealthy students. "A pretty humbling experience," she calls it. "I was one of very few students actually working there. It wasn't the kind of school where people did that."
Bartz through the years:
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(Photos by AP/Getty Images/Yodel Anecdotal)