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January 28, 2009 10:38 AM

Bartz on selling parts of Yahoo: 'This is not a company that needs to be pulled apart and left for the chickens'

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

Carol Bartz, Yahoo's new CEO, was peppered Tuesday with questions about a potential search deal with Microsoft or another go at partnering with AOL-Time Warner. Here are some of her choice exchanges with financial analysts during a conference call after the Internet company reported a loss in the fourth quarter.

Before Bartz took questions, she tried to answer the big ones herself:

"Did I come to Yahoo! to sell the company? The answer is, no. I'm here because I see a tremendous collection of assets and because I want to help make Yahoo! even stronger for our users, advertisers, employees and our shareholders.

"Second: am I planning to immediately sell the search business? I did not arrive here with preconceived notions about anything. I am still learning about the business and our integrated search and display model. It's very, very easy from the outside to have a strong opinion about what Yahoo! should or shouldn't do, not just about the search business, but I'm finding out about everything. Like all of you, my opinions as an outsider were influenced by all the extraordinary attention we received last year."

(See this post for a recap of some of the ups and downs of the Microsoft-Yahoo saga, which has its first anniversary on Sunday. How are you celebrating?)

Bartz continued:

"Search is a very valuable part of our business. Understanding the intent and goals of our users as they seek information online is extremely useful to our franchise in many ways. There has been a lot of talk about Yahoo!'s position in the search market, but some of the most important Yahoo! search stories are being overlooked. We've been introducing new features and capabilities to search at a much faster pace over the last year. And in late 2008, Yahoo!’s query share began to stabilize.

"Our share remains almost three times the size of the number three player. The fact is that the quality of our search product is improving and the share stats support that."

Bartz brushed off a question about who would be leading the discussions with Microsoft. (Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer was spotted earlier this month with Yahoo Chairman Roy Bostock.)

Later, an analyst asked "is everything on the table" regarding a search deal with Microsoft or partnership with AOL.

Bartz: "... yes, everything is on the table. But I really would -- I guess just plea that this is a fantastic Internet property and it really doesn't deserve everybody trying to pick it and pull it apart ... . This is not a company that needs to be pulled apart and left for the chickens -- so that's my Wisconsin coming through. But it's my job to make sure that if there is something interesting to look at, we look at it."

Another analyst pried into how integrated Yahoo's search business is with its display advertising business from a sales and technology perspective. "Is that something that you just really can't break apart, and do they really feed off of each other?"

Bartz: Search by itself is complex with many parts. "Some are easier to break apart, some aren't. And that's the kind of thing that I'm certainly learning and focusing on and certainly have some great people here explaining all this to me and helping us figure out how to make this asset even stronger. Whether we keep it or sell it. The thing you have to remember is, this is an important asset for the company and it's important to invest in to keep it and it's important to get the best value if we decide to sell it."

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