CEOs, COOs, and CFOs

Carol Bartz was fired via a phone call today, unfortunately for her, she is no longer CEO of Yahoo. In truth it is a non-story to anyone who is not named Carol Bartz, or who is a part of her family.

Yahoo simply is not relevant today.

What is interesting to me is the reaction that I am seeing in my Twitter feed and RSS reader. The focus seems to be on two things, none of which are important.

  1. That the firing was confirmed by Bartz who emailed from her iPad.
  2. That the CFO was appointed as the interim CEO.

The second point is one that many seem to be reading too much into. The logic is that the CFO is in charge of finances and so therefore it would make sense to have a CFO as your CEO if your company is in a death spiral and/or about to be sold.

I can see where this logic makes perfect sense. but here’s the thing though: it’s a non-issue, there is nothing to read here. Typically CFOs are put in charge when a board gets tired of hearing that spending more money is the solution.

In most C-level corporations the CFO is typically seen as the third in command behind the COO and then the CEO. However the CEO will also serve as the COO/President in many companies and in fact Bartz was listed 1 as CEO and President.

Essentially she was the CEO and COO of Yahoo, thus leaving the CFO as “next in line.”

There was a saying in business school: “In times of prosper the marketers run the company, in times of decline the accountants run it.”

It’s something that finance professors would tell you to try and woo you away from those splendid marketers, but it is a telling statement and relevant to the Bartz firing.

This saying makes sense and is what people are reading into, except that they are missing that this saying isn’t meant to be an indicator of the health of a company, but rather the health of the economy. And guess what? We are in dire economic times, the sheer fact that there are some marketing/product types left running companies is what is truly amazing to me.

Bartz is gone.

An “accountant” is running the company for now.

That’s all we know, it means nothing about a possible sale or the possible death of the company. If a company is going down, it’s going down no matter who is in charge.

And if it is an acquisition? Well there is no point in the CFO being in charge and paying severance to a CEO — you just want the best negotiator in charge — maybe thats the CFO, but it isn’t the CFO by default.

Don’t read things where there’s no writing.

  1. Just in case, here is a screenshot.
Originally posted for members on: September 6, 2011
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