Yahoo: as résumé inflation goes, this seems pretty innocuous. Still…
While there are many wonderful things about the Internet – like instant access to pressing information on where the actress who played June Cleaver is buried* – there are many things that are downright foul and treacherous, like cyber-bullying and histrionic, inflammatory anonymous commenting.
Somewhere in the middle swatch of the Internet good-bad spectrum there’s the reality that, if you’re in a position where anyone, anytime, anywhere wants to take a potshot at you, and that someone gets a hold of something you did wrong, well… That little old something, no matter how trivial, no matter how picayune, is going to take on a dandy little life of its own. As Yahoo’s CEO Scott Thompson has learned.
The problem for Thompson is that – in some, but not all, places – his résumé states that he has a degree from Stonehill College in accounting and computer science, when, in fact his degree is in accounting.
While I’m not advocating the wisdom of résumé inflation, and, surely, someone who’s the CEO of a search engine company is completely exposed as a putz here… In the grand scheme of things, tacking on a double major doesn’t seem quite like claiming you’d gone to a more prestigious school than they did – like awarding themselves a B.A. from Stanford, rather than an A.A. from Earwax Community College. Or claiming you went to Harvard when you took night courses at Harvard Extension. Or gin up some fellowship for yourself. Or do what former MIT Dean of Admissions Marilee Jones did, and make up a bunch of fictitious degrees, which I blogged about in 2007 and updated in 2009.
Now a little white lie out there – about something that did or didn’t happen over 30 years ago, and which should have no bearing on his capabilities or position – has turned into a big mistake. Something that’s decidedly venial may end up dealing a mortal blow to Thompson’s tenure at CEO.
The hue and outcry is, of course, not being raised by some great moralist faction trying to rout out all instances of deceit in corporate America – good luck with that!
The howls are coming from a 6% shareholder, hedge fund Third Point, which “is waging a proxy fight against Yahoo in order to obtain seats on its board.”
So they’ve seized on Thompson’s stupid little lie with a zeal worthy of birther Orly Taitz, and they’ve demanded that Yahoo fire Thompson by today at high noon. (“Do not forsake me, oh my darling…”**)
I’m sure if they hadn’t had the “Aha! Gotcha!” moment with the degree fib, Third Point would have kept their opposition research going until they came up with something.
In any case, they’ve ignited a firestorm, with purists weighing in that Thompson must go, as he has clearly demonstrated that Moral and Turpitude are his middle and confirmation names, and forecasting that no one will ever trust a word that pops out of his mouth ever again: company outlook, earnings reports, attaboys/attagirls to employees. The more morally lax among us demonstrate our clear and utter disrespect for the truth by noting that this is a stupid lie, but not a particularly egregious one.
On the other hand, Yahoo’s explanation that this was an “inadvertent error” does sound a tad bit lame. Kind of like when politicians claim that they “misspoke” when they said something colossally awful and/or colossally dumb.
My guess is that Thompson might have taken whatever computer science courses that Stonehill, his alma mater, offered when he was there in the late 70’s. Probably courses like Introduction to COBOL, Programming in PL1, and lab instruction on how to use the punch card machine. He then decided that, since he’d taken those courses, and Stonehill didn’t give a CS degree, there was no harm in tacking Computer Science on to Accounting to demonstrate that he was a techie before there were techies.
Which really doesn’t do all that much harm to anyone other than (now) himself. Clearly, he’s been pretty good at whatever he’s been doing for the last 30+ years – at least good enough to get to be CEO of a public company, even a dog like Yahoo.
But now he’s been branded as a liar, totally humiliated, and by noon today, California time, possibly unemployed.
Just goes to show you that scrupulous honesty really is the best policy, especially in the Age of the Unforgiving Internet Witchhunt.
Source for info used in this post: WSJ Online.
*If you must know, Woodlawn Cemetery in Santa Monica, CA. Ward Cleaver was cremated.
**What? You don’t know the theme from High Noon?