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Leadership (or lack thereof) begins at the top

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Yahoo! CEO (and liar) Scott Thompson.
On May 3, activist shareholder Dan Loeb pointed out that Yahoo! CEO Scott Thompson never obtained a degree in computer science, despite what his official Yahoo! bio claims. (The bio has since been altered.)

Apparently, Thompson has been lying about his credentials for at least ten years. When Thompson worked for eBay (as CTO of the PayPal division), his bio contained the statement: "Scott received a bachelor’s in accounting and computer science from Stonehill College." There's only one problem. Stonehill did not begin awarding computer-science degrees until four years after Thomspon graduated.

Thompson's bachelor's degree is actually in business administration.

Less-often reported is the fact that Yahoo! board member Patti Hart (who vetted Thompson's hiring) doctored her bio, also, to show a degree in "economics and marketing." In actual fact, Hart's degree (like Thompson's) is in business administration.

Yahoo! issued a statement calling Thompson's out-and-out lie "an inadvertent error." Which is, itself, a lie.
Yahoo! Board Member Patti Hart

So lying is endemic at the highest levels of Yahoo.Which ought to be quite demoralizing to Yahoo! employees. And apparently it is.

Interestingly, Yahoo's own code of ethics, which you can download here if you're interested, requires employees to (among other things) "Make sure information we disclose about our company is clear, truthful, and accurate." It also cautions employees to "avoid exaggerating."

Apparently, Yahoo's code of ethics means absolutely nothing, since board members and executive officers don't obey it.

Ordinary employees at Yahoo! now must come to grips with the fact that there are two standards of behavior at Yahoo!, one of which applies to them, the other of which applies to bigwigs at the top.If any ordinary employee did what Thompson and Hart have done, he or she would be fired in an instant. But CEO Thompson hasn't been fired. And even if he is, he'll leave with millions of dollars in severance.

The whole episode (including Yahoo's unbelievable lack of urgency in dealing with the situation) sends a bad message not only about Yahoo! but about corporate America. It says that corporate codes of ethics needn't mean anything, and lying (in both corporate bios and SEC statements) is 100% acceptable at the level of CEOs and board members.

We'll see, soon enough, if at also means you get paid big bucks on the way out the door.

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