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.”