The Yahoo Fiasco: Headhunting Firms Denies Involvement in Resume Blunder

Yahoo’s beleaguered CEO Scott Thompson is out, in a shakeup that replaced the company’s chairman of the board and added new directors chosen by a dissident shareholder.

Unable to ride out the storm over a false academic degree listed on his resume, Thompson left the company over the weekend. Yahoo issued a statement Sunday mentioning Thompson’s name briefly, and only in connection with announcing his replacement, Ross Levinsohn, as interim CEO. Levinsohn was Yahoo’s executive vice president and head of global media.

The decision to replace Thompson over his false claim of holding a degree in computer science jelled late Friday, after search firm Heidrick & Struggles denied it had anything to do with the falsification. In meetings he held to attempt to calm the waters last week, Thompson blamed a staffer at an unnamed headhunting firm for making the resume mistake, which he failed to notice for eight years.

Headhunting firm denies allegations

That firm would have been Heidrick & Struggles, which was handling his placement at eBay.Description:

That did it, for the normally reserved firm. “The CEO of Yahoo! has made potentially damaging allegations about our firm that are simply not true and cannot be allowed to stand in the public record,” wrote CEO Kevin Kelly in a letter to company staff. He aded:

The media articles in question have indicated that the Yahoo! CEO told members of his senior staff that, many years ago, a junior member of our firm invented an academic credential for him in the course of preparing standard profile materials. Based on information in our possession, this allegation is verifiably not true and we have notified Yahoo! to that effect.”

That information reportedly is a resume Thompson gave the company.

According to a report on All Things Digital, which posted a copy of the Heidrick & Struggles letter, a similar letter was sent to Yahoo’s board.

No large severance package for outgoing CEO?

What’s not discussed in the letter or in articles about the Heidrick & Struggles letter is whether the firm did a background check on Thompson to verify the information. Heidrick & Struggles has not yet returned a call asking about that.

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What is clear is that dissident shareholder Third Point and its founder, Daniel Loeb, did look into Thompson’s background. In the last several weeks, Loeb learned that Thompson’s alma mater, small Catholic Stonehill College, did not even offer a computer science degree until four years after he graduated — with an accounting degree.

Loeb and Third Point, which was waging a proxy fight with the Yahoo board, called for Thompson’s resignation because of the falsification.

That proxy battle ended Sunday, when Yahoo agreed to appoint three Third Point nominees to its board. Board Chairman Roy Bostock stepped down, as did four other members.

In a different post, All Things Digital said Thompson won’t be getting the usual large severance package that typically is given to ousted executives. Instead, the Yahoo board intends to say he left for cause. It’s relying on a clause in his letter of offer requiring him to “abide by the Company’s policies and procedures.”

On the other hand, if Thompson’s departure was voluntary — and The Wall Street Journal says his recent diagnosis of thyroid cancer may have helped him decide to leave — then he may be obligated to return the $7 million he was given in upfront bonuses. His employment offer says he has to return the money if he leaves voluntarily within a year of his hiring.

John Zappe is the editor of and a contributing editor of John was a newspaper reporter and editor until his geek gene lead him to launch his first website in 1994. He developed and managed online newspaper employment sites and sold advertising services to recruiters and employers. Before joining ERE Media in 2006, John was a senior consultant and analyst with Advanced Interactive Media and previously was Vice President of Digital Media for the Los Angeles Newspaper Group.

Besides writing for ERE, John consults with staffing firms and employment agencies, providing content and managing their social media programs. He also works with organizations and businesses to assist with audience development and marketing. In his spare time  he can be found hiking in the California mountains or competing in canine agility and obedience competitions.

You can contact him here.


1 Comment on “The Yahoo Fiasco: Headhunting Firms Denies Involvement in Resume Blunder

  1. In a super competitive market where the differentiation from “Contingent Recruitment Agents” the snooty upper echalons of “Head Hunting” and “Executive Search” are key factors in keeping ahead of the crowd, where “differentiation” and “not sounding like the rest” are buzzwords in a very saturated market, the name Heidrick & Struggles is always the first utterance from any potential clients lips regarding key appointments, this is always a very hard argument to win, a globally recognized leader in the specialist art of Executive Search………

    Until now.

    Whether an H & S employee tailored a resume or not is not the major issue, as this story has highlighted the risk of external sources and damaged the Executive search industry on a global level, we will all now be seen as the same money hungry recruitment agents looking for a quick buck and fast placement.

    There should be more practices in place to ensure that key appointments like this are ensured to be bona fide, we are looking for the best people for the best organizations in the world and expecting a very healthy fee in the interest of doing a good job. It is very little wonder that Human Resources have little time for Executive Search and people feel cautious when dealing with external companies.

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