There is a club. You are not in it.
Silicon Valley has been on the edge of our collective seats this week waiting for the Fates to determine, well, the fate of Yahoo! CEO Scott Thompson, he of the mysteriously awarded CS Masters Degree from a college that doesn’t offer one, at least not at that time that his resume claims that he earned it.
Anyway, in the land of credentials (it is common here for people to state at the beginning of meetings their colleges, degrees, and honor society memberships, and I wish I was kidding about that) to have someone rise in the ranks without a degree is not unusual (see Faceberg, Mark or Jobs, Steve or even Ellison, Larry), and is somewhat an expected archetype. However, having someone rise in the ranks with a wholly fictitious resume is somewhat unusual.
Now, if Yahoo! was a small and stable tech company, I suppose this story of false credentials would probably fly under the radar, but Yahoo! is anything but small and stable. It is still (amazingly) the most visited web portal on the internet, and even while it is understood by many to be in serious trouble, it is still a billion dollar company. One would think that when hiring a new CEO that someone, somewhere, might have the job of vetting the candidates.
Maybe the thinking is that Thompson who came to Yahoo! from PayPal (a wholly-owned subsidiary of eBay) was already vetted by his previous employer, and I suppose that he was, so why bother vet him again? After all, if (then eBay and now HP CEO) Meg Whitman hired him, well, he’s gotta be as good as Skype. (Meg bought Skype but did not buy the intellectual property rights, or apparently the source code… eBay sold Skype–or whatever it was that Meg bought–back to Skype’s founders and overall lost tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars on the deal after she left eBay.)
Anyway, since it was revealed about a week ago that Thompson’s credentials are anything but real, he’s apologized multiple times to the remaining Yahoo! employees (he’d already laid of 2,000 of ‘em), his apologists have issued numerous explanations (including that an executive recruitment company inserted the degree and he never noticed), and the media has had numerous, thoughtful “conversations” about resumé padding. No one has used the ugly words, lied or liar. Mistake, scandal, I swear I even saw boo-boo; the language has been gentle.
Scott Thompson is a liar. He lied about an easily fact-checked degree on his resume, which makes him an idiot as well as a liar. The people who vetted his candidacy are idiots. They should be walked out the door, too. For cause.
And before we get into the padding a resume vs. lying ethical discussion, I think that there is a world of difference between including the unpaid internship working for your father and declaring you have a degree from an accredited university. Let’s not go there. There is no way to spin it to his advantage.
So there is a strange and terrible object-lesson to this story. Someone who managed to lie his way into the boardrooms and upper echelons of corporate America, literally climbed into the 1% got caught in what I can only think would be a career-killing lie, and he was not walked out the door immediately as you or I would be. (True story: I saw know someone who was fired for claiming to know Power Point. This person is just as credentialed as Scott Thompson and clearly more honest, so in theory s/he could be running Yahoo!)
I don’t wish ill will on any working stiff. Scott Thompson will fail upwards. His departure press release doesn’t mention it, but I’m sure he got a handsome golden parachute for his less than 6 months tenure (January 4, 2012 to today). Thompson’s family will never know hunger or insecurity. He will find himself at another company or more likely at a hedge fund or venture capital fund; maybe Meg will hire him to work at HP.
UPDATE 1: Yahoo! has named an interim CEO, Ross Levinsohn, who helped steer (Fox) News Corp’s acquisition of MySpace. HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!
*Carol Bartz was the previous CEO of Yahoo! who was fired over the phone in 2011.