Last evening, barely 24 hours after Yahoo chairman Roy Bostock called Bartz on her cell phone to tell her the news, she called from her Silicon Valley home (“There are reporters at the gate… a lot of them.”) to tell Fortune, exclusively, how the ax came down.
On Tuesday, Bartz was in New York, to speak at Citigroup’s technology conference the next day, when she was supposed to call Bostock at 6 p.m. “I called him at 6:06,” she recalls. When he got on the line, she says, he started reading a lawyer’s prepared statement to dismiss her.
“I said, ‘Roy, I think that’s a script,'” adding, “’Why don’t you have the balls to tell me yourself?’”
When Bostock finished reading, Bartz didn’t argue—“I got it. I got it,” she told the Yahoo chairman. “I thought you were classier,” she added.
Recruited in January 2009 after successfully building Autodesk , Bartz never was the turnaround chief that the Yahoo board had wanted. Though she slashed costs and improved profit margins, she failed to improve revenue growth at a critical time when Yahoo has lost eyeballs and ad dollars to Google and Facebook. “They want revenue growth,” says Bartz about the Yahoo board, “even though they were told that we would not have revenue growth until 2012.”
As Bartz sees it, Yahoo’s search partnership with Microsoft —a deal she negotiated two years ago to offload costs—has Yahoo paying Microsoft 12% of its search revenue and limits current growth but will help the company long-term. She attributes the directors’ impatience to the criticism they faced when they turned down a lucrative deal to sell Yahoo to Microsoft in 2007, before she arrived. “The board was so spooked by being cast as the worst board in the country,” Bartz says. “Now they’re trying to show that they’re not the doofuses that they are.” (Bostock, who is vice chairman of Delta Air Lines and on Morgan Stanley’s board as well as Yahoo’s, declined to comment.)
After Tuesday’s call from Bostock, Bartz says, she had two hours to let Yahoo know whether she would resign or allow the board to fire her. She called her husband, Bill, her three children–a son and two daughters—and her longtime assistant, Judy Flores. Learning that Yahoo’s lawyers had gone to the St. Regis hotel to hand her papers, she ditched that hotel and booked herself into another. “Am I stupid?!” she asks, making clear that she took her career crisis into her own hands.
It was that evening when she pulled out her iPad and wrote an email to Yahoo’s 14,000 employees:
I am very sad to tell you that I’ve just been fired over the phone by Yahoo’s Chairman of the Board. It has been my pleasure to work with all of you and I wish you only the best going forward.
What does Bartz think of her successor, Tim Morse? “He’s a great guy,” she says. Morse was chief financial officer under Bartz, and now he is interim chief of a company whose stock has risen 6% since he replaced her. Asked whom she thinks the board might appoint long-term, she replies, “They should bring me in. I knew what to do.”
Sometimes it’s difficult to know when Bartz is being serious. As I prod her to tell me what she might do next, I mention her age, 63—“fuck you, yeah,” she replies. And when I ask her if she’s on any other public company boards besides Cisco , where she is lead independent director, she says, “I’m on Yahoo’s board.” She tells me that she plans to remain a Yahoo director—which might be unlikely since she has now called her fellow directors “doofuses.”
“I want to make sure that the employees don’t believe that I’ve abandoned them. I would never abandon them,” Bartz says. Besides, she adds, “I have way too many purple clothes.”
She’s referring to the color of Yahoo’s logo. “I wish the Yahoo people the best,” she adds, “because it’s a fantastic franchise.”
Update: Did this interview just cost Bartz $10 million? Yes, she had a non-disparagement clause…
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