Profiles in (Corporate) Courage: Yahoo’s Carol Bartz Tells It Like It Is

Yahoo CEO Carol Bartz was fired over the phone by Yahoo's Board Chairman.
Yahoo CEO Carol Bartz was fired over the phone by Yahoo's Board Chairman.

See update below.

As much as people say they like straight talk, it’s pretty hard to find in the world of business.

That’s especially true when someone high-ranking — like, say, a CEO — gets fired. That’s because they don’t want to muck up their opportunity to jump back on the CEO merry-go-round and land at another job with another big pay day no matter how well they perform (enough said about that; you can read my rant on that topic here).

That’s why the comments by Yahoo CEO Carol Bartz on her firing (over the telephone, no less, in yet another act of corporate courage/ineptitude by her Board of Directors) are refreshing and great to read even if the circumstances surrounding them are not. 

Jena McGregor of The Washington Post in her Post Leadership blog agrees, and it just proves again that corporate straight talk, like corporate courage, is rather rare and in short supply.

Bartz may have gotten the boot, but she stayed true to her pull-no-punches style to the very end. That’s very rare and refreshing, indeed. I’ll miss her telling it like it is.

As Jena McGregor put it:

You’ve got to hand it to Carol Bartz. The CEO of Yahoo got fired by the board on Tuesday, and didn’t mince words when telling the company — the entire company — exactly what happened. As Kara Swisher reported Tuesday, Bartz sent out this two-sentence zinger of an email to Yahoo’s more than 13,000-person staff after she was canned. “To all,” Bartz addressed her email, “I am very sad to tell you that I’ve just been fired over the phone by Yahoo’s Chairman of the Board. It has been my pleasure to work with all of you and I wish you only the best going forward.”

That’s not something you ever hear from the CEO of a major corporation. CEOs don’t get fired. And they certainly don’t send out emails to everyone to let them know the board didn’t do the work face to face. They resign — preemptively, or with the board’s blessing. They retire. They leave to spend time with their families. Of the 43 companies in the Standard & Poor’s 500 stock index that changed CEOs in 2010, according to executive search firm Spencer Stuart, just 5 percent (that’s two people) were explicitly ousted from their jobs by the board.”

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UPDATE: To the end, Carol Bartz was all about straight talk, even if she did sound like a drunken sailor on shore leave at times (and my apologies to any drunken sailors on shore leave who may be offended by that broad brush portrayal). One example: Here’s what Bartz told Fortune just 24 hours after she got canned by the Yahoo board …

Here is what Carol Bartz thinks of the Yahoo (YHOO) board that fired her: “These people fucked me over,” she says, in her first interview since her dismissal from the CEO role late Tuesday.

Last evening, barely 24 hours after Yahoo chairman Roy Bostock called Bartz on her cell phone to tell her the news, she called from her Silicon Valley home (“There are reporters at the gate… a lot of them.”) to tell Fortune, exclusively, how the ax came down.”

Say what you will about Bartz’ skills as a CEO, but I have a journalist’s love for any high-ranking person who tells it to you straight.

There’s more of her earthy talk here.

John Hollon is Editor-at-Large at ERE Media and was the founding Editor of TLNT.com. A longtime newspaper, magazine, and business journal editor, John has deep roots in the talent management space. He's the former Editor of Workforce Management magazine and workforce.com, served as Editor of RecruitingDaily, and was Vice President for Content at HR technology firm Checkster. An award-winning journalist, John has written extensively about HR, talent management, leadership, and smart business practices, including for the popular Fistful of Talent blog. Contact him at johnhollon@ere.net, connect with him on LinkedIn, or follow him on Twitter @johnhollon.

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3 Comments on “Profiles in (Corporate) Courage: Yahoo’s Carol Bartz Tells It Like It Is

    1. Yes, I suppose that’s true. It’s also easier to be courageous when you have been well paid and don’t  have to worry if your comments are going to make it impossible to feed your family.

      Bartz was well paid and made close to $40 million a couple of years ago, so she probably could afford to speak her piece without worrying about the consequences. But what was so different about her, whether you think she performed well at Yahoo or not, is that she ALWAYS spoke her mind. 

      That may not have always been smart, but it sure was refreshing. And, it’s something we could use a lot more of.

  1. Ms. Bartz is not a typical or sympathetic victim really though I always feel badly when a prominent woman loses her position both for her personally and for women in general.  But I have been in HR long enough to know that complex human resource issues are rarely black and white; rarely is one side all bad & one side all good.  It just isn’t the way things are. I am interested to watch the story unfold.  I wish her and her former organization a productive moving-on.

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