Yahoo named Carol Bartz its new chief. With an appointment of Bartz, the former CEO and current executive chairman of Autodesk , the Yahoo board is signaling that experience in general management and tech trumps a media and advertising background. Just as important, this is a bet on a boss known for guts and decisiveness - the latter a critical trait that Jerry Yang, the boss she is replacing, has lacked.
I've never written a major story about Bartz, but I've tracked her career for more than a decade in the course of overseeing Fortune's Most Powerful Women list. And I've spent enough time with her at Fortune conferences to know that she's one of the most blunt and candid bosses around. At one Fortune Most Powerful Women Summit, Bartz spoke fiercely about earnings guidance. The Summit is off the record, but I can tell you that she's adamant that if you're a CEO who doesn't provide guidance, analysts will jump to insane estimates that you can’t live with. Bartz disagrees with my colleague Carol Loomis, who contends that analysts jumping to insane estimates will cure itself if you just let them stew in their own juice.
Bartz is no-nonsense, tell-it-like-it-is, and fearless. No wonder, given her background. She was born in Winona, Minnesota, lost her mother when she was eight years old, and was raised by a grandmother who also protected Carol from her abusive father. She worked her way through the University of Wisconsin, where she earned a BA in computer science. Then, moving from 3M to Digital Equipment to Sun Microsystems , she landed at Autodesk, where at 43, she became CEO and was diagnosed with breast cancer. The same week. She worked through months of chemotherapy.
So you see, Bartz is not easily intimidated. I recall riding a bus in Aspen with her a few years ago, at a Fortune Brainstorm conference, and chatting with her about extroversion and introversion. Though she comes across so confident, she admitted, she's a closet introvert. (I am too.) "Learn to be an actor," Bartz told the Wall Street Journal in 2006. "You have to learn to be confident when you are not. You have to learn to be calm when you are not and brave when you are not. Learn to be a cobra and act until you really have that confidence."
No doubt, Bartz will take her own advice to heart at Yahoo, which has three times Autodesk's revenues and plenty of problems in terms of product, people, and strategy. Not to mention a stock price that has dropped 50% over the past 12 months. Given Bartz's age, 60, and her connections across Silicon Valley - she's on the Intel and Cisco boards - Yahoo watchers are sure to speculate that she's been hired to dress the company for a sale.