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Yahoo's CEO choice wins praise

Carol Bartz has the brains and leadership skills the Internet firm needs, associates say.

January 14, 2009|Martin Zimmerman

A few years back, Carol Bartz said that the worst thing about her job running software maker Autodesk Inc. was "when people on the outside try to second-guess everything a CEO does."

As the new chief executive of beleaguered Internet company Yahoo Inc., Bartz's patience with Monday-morning quarterbacking is likely to be tested.

Longtime associates say Bartz, one of the few top women executives in Silicon Valley, has the brains and leadership skills that Yahoo needs as it fights an online advertising slowdown and competes with Web search powerhouse Google Inc. But analysts note that her long tenure in the technology industry includes little hands-on Internet experience.

"Her background is more of a traditional tech background, more hardware and software," said Brendan Barnicle, an analyst with Pacific Crest Securities in Portland, Ore.

But he added that "she clearly has demonstrated leadership ability." Autodesk is the world's leading supplier of computer-aided design software, used widely by architects, engineers and even Hollywood animators. "And she made them that," Barnicle said.

Indeed, if the 60-year-old Bartz succeeds in reviving Yahoo, it would come as little surprise to many who know her.

"She's a person who is very focused and incredibly intelligent," said Marye Anne Fox, chancellor of UC San Diego, who served with Bartz on President George W. Bush's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology. "She's highly motivated to get where she wants to go, and does so."

Born in the small city of Winona in southeastern Minnesota, Bartz grew up on a Wisconsin dairy farm where she was raised by her grandmother after her mother died, said Hal Dawson, a member of Autodesk's board of directors throughout Bartz's 14-year tenure as CEO.

"She has made her future," said Dawson, chairman of IDI Associates. "Nothing was handed to her."

A degree in computer science from the University of Wisconsin (Class of '71) led to jobs at 3M Co., Digital Equipment Corp. and Sun Microsystems Inc., mostly working in sales, marketing and customer service. Autodesk, which is based in San Rafael, Calif., hired her as CEO in 1992.

On her first day in the new job, Bartz was diagnosed with breast cancer. According to published reports, after undergoing a mastectomy, she took a month off work and then underwent monthly chemotherapy treatments, returning to the office after each session.

During Bartz's tenure, Autodesk's annual sales grew from less than $300 million to more than $1.5 billion, and she launched the company's transition into the new age of 3-D computer design. Along the way, Bartz deployed "a broader range of skills than I had ever seen in a senior manager," Dawson recalled.

"When she needed to be tough, she could be tough as nails," he said. "When someone needed a hug, she could give them a hug." She stepped aside as CEO in 2006 to focus on her family, taking on the title of executive chairwoman.

Bartz is known for having a sense of humor that can be homespun -- she described her reduced workload at Autodesk as a chance to clean some closets -- or pointed. When asked by an interviewer if there were any advantages to being a female CEO, Bartz replied: "Let's face it, I don't believe the CEO of Autodesk would be invited to be on the president's science and technology council if she wasn't wearing a skirt."

One question that comes up is why Bartz decided to take the Yahoo job at all. Barnicle, the analyst, said that "when she left Autodesk, she gave people the impression that she wanted to step back and retire -- and she hasn't been gone that long."

Dawson, however, said the move wasn't surprising.

"In the back of my mind," he said, "I've always had the feeling that there was too much gas in the tank for her to turn off the engine."

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martin.zimmerman @latimes.com

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

The Bartz file

Carol Bartz was named chief executive of Yahoo Inc. on Tuesday, replacing company co-founder Jerry Yang.

Previous jobs: CEO, Autodesk Inc., 1992-2006; executive chairwoman, 2006-present

Corporate boards: Cisco Systems Inc., Intel Corp., NetApp Inc.

Age: 60

Interests: Gardening, gourmet cooking, San Francisco 49ers

Source: Times research

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