Jerry Yang spoke recently at a tech entrepreneur conference in Santa Clara about Yahoo's (NASDAQ:YHOO) plans to form an online advertising exchange within China.
Ignore, for a brief moment, how competitive and fragmented China's online advertising industry is. Ignore also that other companies (like, say, Google (NASDAQ:GOOG)) have a superior kit of advertising tools than Google. Ignore also that Google has more credibility with online advertising, and that it's going to be tough to build credibility. All of these issues - and the host of other business challenges that Yahoo! faces as it goes this route - are by no means insurmountable.
Focus instead on the fact that every time Jay Yang has taken charge of Yahoo!'s China strategy in the past, the results have been, well, considerably less than stellar.
First, he decided to sneak Yahoo! into China - take the stealth approach, as it were. That worked so well that Yahoo! was stomped by local players like Sina (NASDAQ:SINA), Sohu (NASDAQ:SOHU), and Netease (NASDAQ:NTES) who did not feel compelled to fly low and avoid the radar.
Then, he got talked into having Yahoo! buy local search engine 3721 and turning over Yahoo! China's future to the control of 3721's mercurial founder. Eighteen months and over $100 million later, that imploded, and Yahoo!'s position in China had slid even further.
Finally, he handed the China business and $1 billion to Alibaba. That hasn't failed yet, but the jury is definitely still out. Yahoo! China has apparently fallen to a distant third in the search engine rankings behind Google and Baidu. Yahoo!'s Chinese landing page looks like a rip-off of Google's, so there is no pretense of competition with the portals anymore.
Any other executive with a similar track record would have been reassigned, if not fired, long ago.
And now Jerry wants Yahoo! China to be in the advertising exchange business.
Is anybody at Yahoo! the least bit concerned?
The only silver lining in all of this is that Jack Ma is running the ball. I'm still skeptical, but I give Jack-the-eBay (NASDAQ:EBAY)-Killer an even chance.