Home Featured Story Carol Bartz–The Hard Working, Straight Talking CEO of Yahoo!

Carol Bartz–The Hard Working, Straight Talking CEO of Yahoo!


Carol Ann Bartz is the President and CEO of Yahoo! She was previously chairwoman, President, and CEO at Autodesk, the world's largest producer of design software for use in architecture, engineering and building construction. Bartz was born on August 29, 1948, in Winona, Minnesota. Her mother, Shirley Bartz, died when Carol was eight years old. A few years later, she and her younger brother Jim moved from Minnesota to the home of their grandmother, Alice Schwartz, on a dairy farm near Alma, Wisconsin. In high school, Bartz did well in mathematics, and was also homecoming queen. She began college at William Woods University in Fulton, Missouri, and subsequently transferred to the University of Wisconsin–Madison where she received a bachelor's degree in computer science in 1971. While in college, she supported herself as a cocktail waitress.

In 1976, Bartz went to work at the manufacturing conglomerate 3M, but left after her request to transfer to the headquarters was denied. She was told that "women don't do these jobs." Bartz moved on to the computer industry, including jobs at Digital Equipment Corporation and Sun Microsystems.

She became CEO of Autodesk in 1992. According to Forbes, Bartz "transformed Autodesk from an aimless maker of PC software into a leader of computer-aided design software, targeting architects and builders." Autodesk net revenue substantially increased during her tenure. She is credited with instituting and promoting Autodesk's "3F" or "fail fast-forward" concept — the idea of molding a company to risk failure in some missions, but to be resilient and move on quickly when failure occurs. She stepped down as CEO in 2006 and became the executive chairwoman of the board.

On January 13, 2009, Bartz was named CEO of Yahoo!, succeeding co-founder Jerry Yang. During a conference call with financial analysts later that month, she announced her intention to make sure Yahoo! got "some friggin' breathing room" so the company could "kick some butt."


Carol Bartz’s words are as colorful as her personality, as shown in the following quotes.

On Swearing:

Cursing is part of the job. Everybody has this funny reaction to it. I don't know what the big deal is. You know, everybody thinks I do it consciously. People actually ask me: "When are you going to drop the f-bomb?" I say, "What do you think, put a dime in my ear and then it comes out? No, but get me worked up about something and who knows what'll come out."

On Her Childhood:

My mom died when I was eight. My grandparents took my brother and me onto their farm when I was twelve. So for four years, between eight and 12, I was mom, housecleaner, and cook— and guess what? The little shit doesn't get to you anymore, it just doesn't matter.

One day, my brother and I were in the machine shed when we heard a rattlesnake above us. We didn't think about running for my grandfather — we ran for Grandma. She came, grabbed a shovel, poked the snake off the rafter, and chopped its head off. This was a big snake. And she said, "You could've done that."

It wasn't like she was trying to give us some big life lesson. She just walked away, and that's the way it was.

On Being a Waitress While Putting Herself through College:

I was a damn good cocktail waitress. I talked my way into the job and I had never been in the bar. I didn't know there were costumes. So they'd say, "Okay, wear this." I went home and for the next three days, I did about 50 hours of Jane Fonda. Honest to God, I probably did a thousand sit-ups. I get into this outfit, I go out, the problem was, I didn't know the drinks. So when somebody said, "I'll have a brandy and Seven," I didn't know what the hell they were talking about.

I can't believe they let me keep that job. But I went on to make wicked tips. It didn't take much to charm people and do a little bunny dip or some damn thing. I made a lot of money.

On Her Days at Digital Equipment:

My first day as a manager was at Digital Equipment in Atlanta. I was a sales rep. I was promoted from among my peers, so one day I was a peer and the next day I was their boss.

That first day didn't go too well, and I'll tell you why. Do you know what plug compatible means? You have a receptor that receives the plug. Well, one of my new sales reps/peers walked in and he said, "I have no intention of working for a plug-compatible boss."

I said, "Well, I'm not going anywhere." I'd never been a boss before, and this was five minutes after I'd been promoted. Jesus, if it happened today, I'd beat the shit out of him. I mean: Don't let the door hit you in the ass.

On Coming Onboard At Yahoo!:

My second day at Yahoo!, a year ago, I had my first all-hands meeting, and they're all sitting there looking at me. So I do a Q&A, and a hand goes up. "Have you ever used a mobile device?" Have I ever used a fucking mobile device?! I mean, God, I was 60! I said, "I left my walker over there on the side, and I think I can stand here just long enough to finish this meeting."

Yahoo! had a huge problem of all kinds of internal documents getting out to the press. Terrible timing. And what I was trying to explain is, all we're doing is hurting each other. You know we can't have a family conversation without you running and telling the neighbors? So I was just explaining that it was a bad thing to do, and if I found them, that's what would happen to them. If I found out who was leaking this, I'd just drop-kick you to Mars. You have to have some passion. What am I going to say? "Oh, please don't ..."? You think my employees would remember it? No. Did I do it because of that? No. I did it because at the moment I got myself all riled up.

On Hiring and Firing:

What do I look for when hiring? Well, let's get past the assumption that they can do the job. There has to be a no-asshole rule.

We'll go through the whole interview, and I'll say, "I have one last question. I don't work with assholes. Are you one?"

Some say, "What a great question! I want to work in a place that's like that." But you'd be amazed at how many others hear that question and look like they've just been caught. Their expressions say: I guess I'm an asshole.

I always do my firing in the morning because that's when I'm fresh. I mean, why sit there all day thinking: I'm going to fire Joe at 4:59?

The joke was never have breakfast with Carol, because it's not a real safe thing to do. Anybody who knows me knows I don't do breakfast. If I'm going to get up early in the morning to meet with somebody, there's a reason.

Listen, you don't want to send somebody home. But if something isn't working, it's not working for either side. If you do it right, when all's said and done, there's amazing relief. I say "Here's why it didn't work, and my advice for you as you're going to another job is this is a characteristic that works or doesn't work, why don't you think about that? And by the way, don't do this kind of work again because you're really not suited to it."

On The Future of Yahoo!:

Tomorrow's Yahoo! is going to be really tailored. I'm not talking about organization — organizing means that you already know what you want and somebody's just putting it in shape for you. I'm talking about both smart science and people culling through masses of information on the fly and figuring out what people want to know.

We will be delivering your interests to you. For instance, if you're a sports fan but have no interest in tennis, we won't show you tennis. We would know that you do things in a certain sequence, so we'd say, "Here's your portfolio. Here's some news you might like. Oh, you went to this movie last week, here's some other movies you might want to check out."

I call it the Internet of One. I want it to be mine, and I don't want to work too hard to get what I need. In a way, I want it to be HAL. I want it to learn about me, to be me, and cull through the massive amount of information that's out there to find exactly what I want.

Yahoo! has been here for 15 years. We are the Internet. Unfortunately, we sit in a paradigm that values the new, shiny penny.

That said, we're very successful. A billion three cash flow a year, and six hundred million users. But we can be so much more, and that's why I came here.

Editor Phil Robertson is an award-winning journalist and graphic designer.  With a degree from the University of Florida's School of Journalism, his career in journalism and publishing spans over 30 years, and includes positions as editor and publisher for several newspapers and magazines.  During his career he has received a first-place award investigative journalism from the Society of Newspaper Editors, and five ADDY awards for advertising design.