You have to salute Yahoo (NASDAQ:YHOO) CEO Jerry Yang for even showing up and submitting to questioning on stage before more than 1,000 tech industry heavyweights. He's had one of the tech industry's most highly-visible terrible years. And just hours before he took the stage at Web 2.0, Google pulled out of the joint advertising deal with Yahoo.
So I was in the audience watching Yang, and he seemed pretty combative about what's happened -- yet never managed to be all that clear about where Yahoo is heading and why he should lead the company he co-founded 15 years ago.
Host John Battelle asked Yang why he didn't take Microsoft's (NASDAQ:MSFT) first offer of $33 a share. "A lot of us have replayed that over and over, including me," Yang said. "The idea of selling to Microsoft was something we'd talked about," and Yang said buying Yahoo is actually "the best thing Microsoft could do." He added: "THEY walked away from a public auction. WE thought we were close."
Did Yang, personally, not want to sell to Microsoft? "No," he said. "People who know me know my ego is not about remaining independent or not independent. It was not personal."
The Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) deal? Ending it was Google's decision and "we were disappointed," Yang said. He clearly blames the Department of Justice, and said he feels the government doesn't understand the search industry.
Why did he take the CEO job? "I wanted to make a change at Yahoo and believed I could make it," he said.
But when pressed for his vision of Yahoo, it seemed kind of blurry. "Yahoo is a consumer brand that allows people to get what they want from the Internet," is how he described it. He also described Yahoo as becoming a "platform" that other companies can build on, but his explanation of how that will work was lost on me.
Finally, is Yahoo buying AOL? "I can't talk about that!" Yang said with a nervous laugh.