On the morning of Thursday, July 12, 2012, Yahoo's interim CEO, Ross Levinsohn, still believed he was going to be named permanent CEO of the company.
He had just one meeting to go.
That meeting was a board meeting, to be held that day in a room on the second floor of Yahoo's Sunnyvale, Calif., headquarters. The room was big, with a large horseshoe table and video screens on the walls.
The agenda for the meeting: Levinsohn was going to brief the directors on his plan for Yahoo, should he be named permanent CEO.
Levinsohn walked into the room; all of his top executives followed.
There was Jim Heckman, Levinsohn's top dealmaker, who'd spent months negotiating a huge deal with Microsoft. There was Shashi Seth, Yahoo's top product management executive, already planning a long-needed update to Yahoo Mail and the Yahoo home page. There was chief financial officer Tim Morse, who'd just completed a critical, company-saving deal to sell a portion of Yahoo subsidiary Alibaba. There was Mickie Rosen, a News Corp. veteran whom Levinsohn had hired to run Yahoo's media business. And there was Mollie Spillman, whom he'd just made CMO.
Heckman, Seth, Morse, Rosen, Spillman, and handful of others sat off to the side.
All of them believed that the meeting was a formality — that Levinsohn was going to get the job.
They had good reason to be confident. For the two months prior, the chairman of Yahoo's board, Fred Amoroso, had made it clear that he was going to do everything he could to make sure Levinsohn and his team would be running the company for the foreseeable future.
Amoroso told Levinsohn this in private. He told Yahoo employees this during an all-hands meeting in May. He'd even joined a sales call to express support for Levinsohn to Yahoo advertisers — an oddly hands-on move for a chairman.
In June, Amoroso helped Levinsohn recruit a high-profile Google executive named Michael Barrett into Yahoo. During the recruiting process, Amoroso promised Barrett that Levinsohn's "interim" title was only temporary — that it was safe to leave Google.
Levinsohn had another reason to be hopeful: For the past few months, he'd been speaking with two of Yahoo's most important new directors, Dan Loeb and Michael Wolf, almost every day. As important as it was for Levinsohn to have Amoroso's support, he needed Loeb's more. Loeb ran a hedge fund called Third Point, which owned more than 5 percent of Yahoo and had, only months before, forced the resignation of Yahoo's previous CEO. Wolf was an important ally for Levinsohn to have, too. Wolf, a former president of MTV, was consulting for Third Point on media investments when Loeb asked him to join the Yahoo board and lead its search committee for a new CEO.
Levinsohn began his presentation. It was going to be a doozy, as he planned to seriously alter the direction of Yahoo.
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