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What’s Next For Ross?

Ross Levinsohn

Things nev­er stay still in the hurly-burly that is dig­i­tal media, and just this week Yahoo announced that inter­im CEO Ross Levin­sohn is set to walk fol­low­ing the appoint­ment of Google’s Maris­sa May­er. This is the sec­ond time he has been passed over for the top job.

Fol­low­ing the sack­ing of Scott Thomp­son, now firm­ly ensconced at shop­ping net­work Shoprun­ner, Levin­sohn was asked to step into the breech and over­see con­tent cre­ation, engi­neer­ing and strat­e­gy. He led adver­tis­ing sales and con­tent, he also won praise for bro­ker­ing part­ner­ships with Clear Chan­nel, Spo­ti­fy and, most impor­tant­ly, Face­book. Levin­sohn also man­aged a deal with Chi­nese e‑commerce firm Ali Baba Group Hold­ing that would see the com­pa­ny buy  back a stake in itself and earn Yahoo $6.3 bil­lion in cash and up to $800 mil­lion in pre­ferred stock.

Tak­ing all of the above into account, it seems like­ly he will not be left on the shelf for long. How­ev­er, in the ever-more inces­tu­ous world of the search engine, where CEOs and execs seem to skip effort­less­ly between the giants, what does this lat­est move actu­al­ly mean for the sec­tor and where might Levin­sohn end up?

Strug­gling Search Engines

Yahoo will undoubt­ed­ly now be look­ing for a firm hand and a steady­ing influ­ence fol­low­ing the depar­ture of five CEOs in three years, although May­er will sure­ly find it dif­fi­cult with­out Levinsohn’s expe­ri­ence and adver­tis­ing con­tacts.

Yahoo has had a tumul­tuous few years, not least because it seems to be get­ting through CEOs pret­ty quick­ly. Sales fell 21% to $4.98 bil­lion last year  as users refused to spend any longer than two hours and twen­ty min­utes on Yahoo pages in May, com­pared to an aver­age of six hours on Face­book. It seems May­er will have inter­est­ing times over the next few weeks and months.

Who is Ross Levin­sohn?

Levin­sohn boasts an illus­tri­ous past and his CV is lit­tered with ref­er­ences to the great and the good of dig­i­tal media – if any­one was qual­i­fied to guide Yahoo to suc­cess it seemed Ross was the guy.

Born in New Jer­sey in 1964, Levin­sohn grad­u­at­ed from Amer­i­can Uni­ver­si­ty with a degree in Broad­cast Com­mu­ni­ca­tions and out of Col­lege worked for CBS Sport­sline, Saatchi and Saatchi and ProS­erve in a num­ber of mar­ket­ing and exec­u­tive roles. His big break came in 1999 when he was made Exec­u­tive and Vice Pres­i­dent of Alta Vista.

His time with Fox Sports Inter­ac­tive Media saw him report­ing direct­ly to media mogul Rupert Mur­doch and dur­ing his pres­i­den­cy he over­saw the acqui­si­tion of MySpace and IGN.

In 2007 Levin­sohn set up Veloc­i­ty Inter­ac­tive Group with for­mer AOL chair­man Jonathan Miller – a $1.5 bil­lion media and com­mu­ni­ca­tions and invest­ment fund which two years lat­er mor­phed into Fuse Cap­i­tal and announced a sec­ond phase of dig­i­tal invest­ment oppor­tu­ni­ties.

So What’s Next?

Levin­sohn made no secret of the fact that he was like­ly to leave if the CEO posi­tion was not offered to him, and board mem­ber Dan Loeb’s mas­ter­stroke — only inform­ing Levin­sohn of Mayer’s appoint­ment hours before the offi­cial announce­ment was made – will not have filled him with con­fi­dence.

Of his depar­ture Levin­sohn wrote: “Yahoo is an amaz­ing brand and com­pa­ny, and I leave know­ing we did all we could to help inform and enter­tain more than 700m users each month.

“Lead­ing this com­pa­ny has been one of the best expe­ri­ences of my career, but it is time for me to look for the next chal­lenge.”

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