Nearly 18 years after he launched Yahoo (YHOO) with a fellow Stanford student, Jerry Yang resigned from the company's board Tuesday and relinquished his other positions at the pioneering Internet giant, which has been struggling to find its way in a changing competitive landscape.
The 43-year-old Yang -- who had come under increasing fire from investors critical of Yahoo's performance -- did not indicate what he plans to do next. But analysts said his departure may clear the way for a sale of Yahoo's Asian assets and, potentially, a broader overhaul of the troubled company
where Yang has wielded significant influence for years. Some suggested other board members may step down as well.
"This could be the start of a new day," said longtime investor Eric Jackson of Ironfire Capital, who has been critical of Yang and the board in recent years. "I think we'll see other shoes drop soon."
Yahoo chose veteran PayPal executive Scott Thompson earlier this month to serve as the company's CEO, after previous CEO Carol Bartz was fired last fall. But even with new leadership, critics, including New York investor Daniel Loeb, one of the company's biggest shareholders, had complained that Yang had an unhealthy influence over the board and was responsible
for repeated stumbles, including the rejection of a lucrative $44.6 billion sale to Microsoft in 2008.
Loeb did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday.
Yang first teamed with fellow Stanford student David Filo to launch Yahoo as a much-needed guide to navigating the newfangled phenomenon that was the Internet in 1994. In a statement released by Yahoo on Tuesday, Yang said his years with the company "encompassed some of the most exciting and rewarding experiences of my life.
"However," he added, "the time has come for me to pursue other interests outside of Yahoo." Yang, whose personal wealth was estimated by Forbes at $1.1 billion last year, did not elaborate.
Yang added in the statement that he is "enthusiastic" about Thompson's appointment and the new CEO's ability to lead the company "into an exciting and successful future."
Making a clean break
In addition to his seat on Yahoo's board, the Sunnyvale company said, Yang resigned from the boards of Yahoo Japan and the China-based Alibaba Group, two Internet businesses in which Yahoo owns a significant stake. A spokeswoman said Yang will no longer hold the title of Chief Yahoo, a loosely defined
position in which Yang has helped to oversee company strategy in recent years.
The company has not commented on reports that it has been negotiating a sale of its Asian properties or that it had recently discussed offers by private equity firms to buy a sizable stake in Yahoo -- a move that Loeb and others feared would have helped Yang solidify his control over the company.
Despite the recent criticism, Yang was once regarded as among Silicon Valley's pantheon of visionary business leaders.
"You have to give this guy tremendous credit for creating this company, that became and really still is an Internet icon with global reach," said Scott Kessler, an analyst who follows Yahoo for S&P Capital IQ.
Yahoo has 700 million global users and reported more than $1 billion in revenue last quarter. But the company has been rapidly losing market share to Facebook and Google (GOOG) in digital display advertising, where Yahoo once was the global leader, according to advertising metrics company eMarketer.
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