Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Yahoo Picks Carol Bartz as CEO

There have been numerous rumors and speculation as to who will be the new CEO of Yahoo after its founder Jerry Yang stepped down. It is now official that Carol Bartz, former CEO of Autodesk (you know them with their flagship program AutoCad) will lead Yahoo for the next three years.

Now, if you are expecting something like a business analysis or forecast for Bartz led Yahoo, you are wrong. Nor will I say anything about Bartz. But when it comes to Autodesk and especially to its founder John Walker, we have to pause as there are few individuals that earned my respect although we have never met. Kara Swisher of Boom Town writes,
Though the world’s sixth largest PC software company, Autodesk is hardly a household name for a couple of reasons. One is that it dominates a niche: software that allows relatively inexpensive personal computers to produce powerful models for engineers, architects and other professional designers.

The other reason is Autodesk's founding genius, John Walker, a reclusive programmer who doesn't allow the company to distribute his picture or publish it in its annual report. In a rare interview granted for this article, a prickly Mr. Walker insisted that a reporter sit in front of a video camera, declared that Autodesk claimed a copyright on the ensuing discussion and debated the meaning of each question.
Oh, as there truly is no limit to eccentricity,
He relinquished the top spot in 1986 to Alvar Green, formerly Autodesk's chief financial officer, to return to programming. But the real power still rested with Mr. Walker, Autodesk's biggest shareholder, and an elite group of programmers called Core, who had either helped Mr. Walker found the company in 1982 or led its most important projects.

Core members are contentious, eccentric free-thinkers who have had a way of devouring professional managers. They have often attacked each other and company executives, usually by sending "flame mail"–biting electronic letters. The outbursts sometimes have led to changes, and sometimes brought work to a halt. "The whole company is a theocracy of hackers," says Charles M. Foundyller, president of Daratech Inc., a market research firm in Cambridge, Mass.
For what it is worth, AutoCad was not invented by Walker. He bought it from a programmer named Michael Riddle. But as you will see, it is not a story of tragedy,
Mr. Walker gave Mr. Riddle an extraordinarily generous royalty agreement that eventually amounted to more than $10 million. The payment may be a record for an outside programmer in the PC business, but Mr. Walker has always operated by a different set of rules. He doesn’t care a whit about office decorum or hierarchy, so Autodesk was always casual and libertarian, even by techie standards.
You can read the full article in Boom Town but let me add one more thing: visit Walker's site and when you have the time read the Digital Imprimatur. You will have a lot of things to think about.

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