Yahoo CEO called to task for misrepresentation of college CS degree

Yahoo, the beleagured company which is seemingly trying to stay relevant (and profitable) by focusing its efforts on suing Facebook for patent infringement has another problem on its hands - a Hollywood style controversy.

Yahoo, the beleaguered company which is seemingly trying to stay relevant (and profitable) by focusing its efforts on suing Facebook for patent infringement has another problem on its hands - a Hollywood style controversy.

Late last week, it was revealed that Yahoo CEO Scott Thompson had lied about having a CS degree on his Resume. Thompson's Resume had long stated that he holds both an accounting and Computer Science degree from Stonehill College, where he graduated in 1979. But activist Yahoo investor Dan Loeb did a bit of legwork and found that Stonehill College never even offered a CS degree until 1983.

Can someone say scandal?

What's more, Stonehill College has since confirmed that the only degree Thompson graduaged with was one in accounting.

Nevertheless, all of Thompson's official bios from his previous companies - including eBay and PayPal - indicate he has a CS degree.

In  a letter to Yahoo's board of directors, Loeb wrote in part:

We inquired whether Mr. Thompson had taken a large number of computer science courses, perhaps allowing him to justify to himself that he had “earned” such a degree. Instead, we learned that during Mr. Thompson’s tenure at Stonehill only one such course was even offered — Intro to Computer Science. Presumably, Mr. Thompson took that course...

If Mr. Thompson embellished his academic credentials we think that it 1) undermines his credibility as a technology expert and 2) reflects poorly on the character of the CEO who has been tasked with leading Yahoo! at this critical juncture. Now more than ever Yahoo! investors need a trustworthy CEO,” said Loeb in the letter.

It's hard to argue with that.

Yahoo, for the time being, seems to be standing behind its CEO, noting that the discrepency was nothing more than an inadvertant error. Which, even if you're terribly naive, is a tall tale. In an industry where technological prowess and background is held in the highest of regards, it's hard, and arguably impossible to believe that Thompson wasn't aware of the false accolades that accompanied his corporate bios.

But Loeb wasn't solely concerned with Thompson. He also accused Yahoo board member Patti Hart of embellishing her academic record.

Yahoo notes:

Various corporate filings state that Hart holds a bachelor's degree in marketing and economics from Illinois State University but her degree is in business administration, Loeb said.

A Yahoo spokesman responded: "We can confirm that Patti Hart holds a bachelor of science degree in business administration with specialties in marketing and economics from Illinois State University."

In the wake of this controversy, Thompson last Friday fired off an email to employees worldwide asking them to remain focused on the task at hand.

Yahoos –

I am sure you have seen the reports of questions raised regarding my undergraduate degree. As we said yesterday, the board is reviewing the matter and, upon completion of its review, will make an appropriate disclosure to shareholders. In the meantime, I’m doing what I hope all of you are doing — staying focused on our customers, our shareholders, our team and moving Yahoo! forward, fast.

Yahoos?! Really?

Interestingly enough, in addition to serving as PayPal's senior VP, he also worked as the company's CTO.

In any event, while some are calling this Resumegate, others believe the whole story is being blown out of proportion.

Dan Lyons, for example, writes that Thompson's undergraduate degree, at this point, is hardly relevant.

All this begs the question: Who cares? Thompson has a degree in accounting, not computer science, but frankly at this point in his career does it really matter what he studied as an undergraduate? He’s 54 years old, has been CEO of Paypal, and before that held high positions at Inovant, a subsidiary of Visa, and Barclays Global Investors. He’s qualified to run Yahoo.

Here’s the thing. The people howling about Résumégate don’t really care about Thompson’s credentials. They just want the guy out, for different reasons, and they see this résumé business as a pretext to get rid of him.

That's certainly true in the case of Loeb, and personally, Yahoo's seemingly frivolous lawsuit against Facebook rubbed me the wrong way and likely influences my take on the story.

But as these things tend to go, the reality is that Thompson would have a much better chance of surviving this ordeal if Yahoo wasn't desperately trying to remain relevant in a tech industry that has largely passed them by.

And in the latest development, Loeb and his company, Third Point, is looking to inspect Yahoo's books as it pertains to the hiring of Scott Thompson along with the appointment of various Yahoo board members.

In a press release on the matter, Third Point wrote:

Third Point believes that Yahoo! shareholders and employees will be best served if the Board accepts responsibility quickly for this latest debacle … We believe that this internal investigation by this Board must not be conducted behind a veil of secrecy and shareholders deserve total transparency.

Looks like Loeb is going to ride this out as long as he can.

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