Yahoo’s Susan Decker

The former financial analyst has taken Silicon Valley by storm.

Finally, I see it as my role to have very transparent communications and to reduce volatility where we can.

What have you learned over the past few years?

I don’t know where to start! In a company as dynamic as this, you have to be thinking about what’s right today and what will be right in the next 12 months. What are we going to look like? How do we start staffing those positions? How do we evolve the great talent we have? I spend a lot of time setting the tone and the vision, finding the people, and rethinking the priorities and accountabilities. I sort of view my role, and the role of my peers, as steward of something that’s going to be here in 20 years, we hope in 50 years. I hope that when I leave, we’ll all have created a place for the next generation of leaders.

What does the Chinese market want from Yahoo?

Well, I think they want just about everything we have to provide. I’d say one difference is that, because there are four times as many mobile phones in China, there is a faster-developed wireless market in terms of getting basic information, games, and entertainment services on your phones. Another difference is that payment systems are not as developed in China, so the classic E-commerce types of services really haven’t developed as much yet. [Editor's note: That may change soon. As CFO went to press, Yahoo announced a $1 billion investment to purchase a 40 percent stake in Alibaba.com, one of the major Internet operators in China.]

What do you think are the three biggest risks Yahoo faces?

One risk is just keeping clarity of focus. We spend a lot of time as a team trying to make sure we’re forcing ourselves to make choices.

The second [potential risk] is making sure we have leadership and expertise around the world. We have great talent, but the fact that our business is growing so quickly, and in many cases changing, means that we need to keep bringing in people with new skills. And as we get bigger, broader, deeper, and more institutionalized, we have to reward employees for narrowing their expertise.

A third [risk] is that there are fewer natural enforcers of discipline than there were when access to capital was more restricted. All companies need to be very focused on the discipline they put on what kinds of investments they would make, because there are all kinds of things getting financed now.

Who, or what, would you say has had the biggest influence on you?

When I was an analyst, Warren Buffett was the big influence. And that’s the way I look at businesses and think about value.

— Interview by Julia Homer

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