As Yahoo continues to weigh up acquisition offers, the company has announced that it’s reached a deal with activist investor Starboard, which had written one of its famous letters to the troubled Internet company calling for the whole board to be replaced. It’s a compromise in the end: four new board members are getting added effective immediately, including Starboard’s CEO Jeff Smith, a former MD of Deutsche Bank, a former CEO of the Tribune Company and… wait for it… the CEO of a patent troll. Two others are standing down, Lee Scott and Sue James.
“We are pleased to welcome these four new highly respected, independent directors to our board,” said Maynard Webb, chairman of Yahoo’s board of directors, in a statement. “The additional board members will bring valuable experience and perspectives to Yahoo during this important time for our company.”
Given that Yahoo now is weighing up acquisition bids (including one allegedly from the owner of TechCrunch, AOL/Verizon), these are not people whose aim will be to turn the company around and refocus CEO Marissa Mayer, but more to make sure that it plays to whatever strengths it has left in the sale.
Tor R. Braham, Yahoo’s statement notes, was an MD and global head of tech for Deutsche Bank Securities for eight years until 2012, tellingly “directly involved in negotiating or executing numerous mergers and acquisitions in the technology industry.” Before that he was also working on M&A at Credit Suisse First Boston.
Eddy W. Hartenstein brings in strong media chops with past stints as CEO of the Tribune Company, Chairman, CEO of DIRECTV, and Publisher and CEO of the Los Angeles Times Media Group. (Yahoo has long been eyeing up growing its media business with video and other assets, and while some of that has flopped, content is still considered a strong area for the company with properties like Yahoo News.)
Richard S. Hill, meanwhile, is the chairman of Tessera Technologies. If you don’t know what Tessera is, well, it’s another a sign of how Starboard feels Yahoo will maximise its value down the line.
Tessera makes and more importantly licenses technology to the mobile phone industry. It has been referred to as one of the world’s “most fearsome patent trolls.” Fair or not, Tessera has been embroiled in patent disputes with Sony, Qualcomm, STMicro and more. Yahoo has had its own share of patent fights in the past. (In one patent soap opera, it sold a trove of patents to Microsoft years ago, which then were passed on to Facebook, which Yahoo had been trying to sue over patents…) Someone like this could feasibly be getting inserted to examine what is left on this front and how, again, to best monetise it. If patents are one way of marking a company’s history, it’s is a sad, and surprising, ending for a pretty iconic and groundbreaking company. Such is the march of tech, I guess.