Tough-love suggestions for Yahoo from a former insider

Sell off assets, hack staff, dispense with circus atmosphere, advices former Yahoo Finance GM

Nathan Richardson is the president of Gilt City, a New York-based membership website that offers deals on restaurants, concerts and other services in nine major U.S. cities and Tokyo (with more planned).

Gilt City is fairly new and thus unfamiliar to most people, but in a previous life Richardson was associated with a higher-profile website that made a bit of news this week -- Yahoo.

Richardson worked at Yahoo from 2000 to 2005, serving as general manager of Yahoo Finance, the company's largest (and highly regarded) property. In a Friday blog post titled "What Yahoo Should Do," Richardson suggests that Carol Bartz, who some of you may have heard was fired on Tuesday, "had the right idea" for turning around the beleaguered Internet pioneer.

"She wanted to slim down the company, knew that it couldn’t compete with Google in search and was dealing with a tired board," Richardson writes. "But the problems with Yahoo pre-date Carol, and the solution is much more radical than the current board is capable of addressing."

Richardson isn't necessarily letting Bartz off the hook, adding, "Yahoo requires a revitalized vision and mission that both motivates its staff and inspires its customers. Carol's inability to deliver either was at the heart of her failure."

No argument here.

Richardson goes on to offer "three smart and decisive moves that need to be taken to preserve shareholder value and customer loyalty." Two involve making the company smaller in order to get stronger.

The first is to sell off Yahoo's Asian assets, Yahoo Finance and Yahoo Sports. (At least he's not letting sentimentality get in the way of his tough-love approach.)

Richardson calls the sale of Yahoo's Asian assets a "no brainer" and believes Yahoo Finance, while still one of the most popular finance sites on the web, has become stagnant and has a bloated staff.

His second suggestion is more "tough" without the "love" -- hack Yahoo's employee headcount to 7,000 from 14,000! And who should go?

* Anyone arriving after 9 a.m. and leaving before 5 p.m. more than once a week: OUT

* Anyone spending more time with the baristas than at their desk, meeting with people from areas of the company that have nothing to do with their business: OUT

* Anyone not replying to email within 24 hours 90% of the time: OUT

* Anyone working from home more than one day a week, let them start looking for a job. WFHs: OUT

* Anyone meeting to “talk about doing” rather than doing, or trying to graft onto a VP, SVP, EVP meeting for airtime more than once a day: OUT

I'm not sure if the above is based on Richardson's own observations while working at Yahoo or just his guidelines for determining who the valuable employees are (I've emailed him asking that very question and will update this post if I get a reply), though my own opinion is that such a brutal set of requirements also would chase out many of the "good" employees who are productive but would chafe against such a rigid environment.

Richardson's last suggestion is "find humility."

"Yahoo has had a series of ego-driven leaders more focused on themselves, their compensation, their positioning and PR for the last decade," he writes. Certainly that appeared to be the case with Bartz.

The company should focus on great products, innovation, disruption and consumers rather than watching executives publicly take pot-shots at one another; scream about moving a Finance business to L.A. and distract the media by talking about the f-bomb. The ego-maniacs being thrown about as saviors are stuffed suits and careerists who have spent more time jumping about for their own benefit rather than what matters, which are the consumers and the products.

C'mon, Nate, tell us what you really think!

Better yet, what do readers think of Richardson's suggestions? Feel free to leave your comments below.

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