Lessons from Carol Bartz on how not to exit gracefully

After being ousted as CEO of Yahoo, Carol Bartz said she would remain on the board. Under some circumstances, that might have been a good way to ensure a smooth transition.

However, calling your fellow board members “doofuses”  and claiming they “f***ed me over” in an interview with Fortune probably doesn’t help the interpersonal dynamics on the board. Unsurprisingly, she is leaving the board.

Note to execs: I’m pretty sure boards don’t like being called “doofuses”, nor their behaviors being described with the f-word. Not sure saying you were “screwed over” by “buffoons” would work much better.

I am not an expert on tact or euphemism, but here are some alternatives to consider if you must describe your firing and the individuals who did it and want to remain on the board. “Held accountable for a stagnant stock price” by “hard-nosed shareholder representatives” might even be a little tough. How about:

  • “Encouraged to step back from day to day operations” by “people I trusted to have the company’s best interests at heart”
  • “Supported in a decision to move on” by “a strong team I have very much enjoyed working with”
  • “Helped to see that new leadership was necessary” by “a number of my key advisors”

— Max

2 comments so far

  1. Observer on

    I think we need to see it in context. When Carol Bartz left Autodesk, the company she led from total obscurity to blue-chip greatness, she risked her image and put her entire career at stake.

    In her initial outlook for Yahoo and every time since, Bartz predicted that it would take until 2012 to engineer a turnaround, and that the biggest pain would hit Y! in 2011 (and it was even before the impact of the Great Recession was fully understood). The board agreed and gave her the green light with the understanding that she would shepherd the company through the transition to profitability without having to deal with backstabbing and board revolts. This is not what happened.

    They made a sacrificial offering by throwing Bartz’s head to the wolves to save their own warm seats in the boardroom. They trashed her career for nothing, and in bad style. They had no vision back then and they still have no vision, only excuses.

    Everyone seems to expect lady-like manners from Carol Bartz. I disagree. A less than clear-cut statement would have only given the shareholders the wrong idea, it would have confirmed the professional faculties of the members of the board and whitewashed the reality. In my view, this would have been simply unethical. She did the right thing.

    And I also think she was great.

    • Max Schireson on

      I don’t expect a female CEO to be “ladylike”. I think there is something to your argument that she was treated unfairly and that she shouldn’t have “played the game” by going with an innocuous statement of everyone being friends. That said, if she had said they were “impatient” or even “unethical” and “failed to live up to their commitments”, I would not have written this post – and she would have made a statement that would have been received more credibly.

      But if she wanted to make those statements, she should have resigned from the board first then stated why in professional manner.

      — Max


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