Why cultural fit matters when hiring: real world example

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I first read about Carol Bartz in a Business Week, four or so years ago. At the time, she was the highly successful CEO of AutoCad. During her leadership AutoCad had become the largest software company in the design and engineering space, earning both the company and Carol tremendous accolades in the technology industry.  The article didn’t focus a great deal on her straightforward and at times colorful language, but it did characterize her as no nonsense.

Fast forward a few years and she was hired on to Yahoo as the CEO. A CEO who the board hoped would do what she had done for AutoCad; complete a successful technology business turn around. At the time, Yahoo was an ailing internet visage of the dot.com era. Stuck between its role as a search engine vs. its destination portal and marketing advertising business. Though she reportedly had success on both the cost and margin part of her initial goals, revenue growth still eludes Yahoo three years after she was hired. As Yahoo struggled to completely revitalize itself, some of Carol’s greatest hits became well chronicled and fodder for anti- Carol advocates. And this week she was fired, abruptly, by mostly the same board of directors that hired her three years earlier. 
If you read through the myriad of articles telling the behind the scenes information of what happened and even Carol’s own recounting of the events, you can put together a picture what happens when you don’t hire for a cultural fit.  Although Carol is from all accounts as talented as any technology executive in her era, both male and female, she has a no nonsense personality sprinkled with instances of using off color comments that make some people uncomfortable.  Part of that same personality, which undoubtedly allowed her to succeed in her career (especially in an industry dominated by sometimes confident to the point of arrogant males, Steve Ballmer, Steve Jobs, Larry Ellison, Mark Hurd to name a few) appears to have led to her downfall at Yahoo. I’m not taking sides on who is “right” in this situation, or even if this is due to other inequalities between male and female executives, but the contention that such behavior at Yahoo was somewhat unexpected or took people aback, means one of three things to me:
  1. Yahoo ignored the potential cultural and personality conflicts when they hired her
  2. Yahoo thought it could change Carol’s behavior
  3. Yahoo did not do enough background research to find out such thing
In my mind, option 3 speaks to a different problem. But if it’s either option 1 or 2, or some combination of the two, then the same board that hired her should be looking in the mirror over the next few weeks as they fight the firestorm they in part caused. Culture matters. 
By the way Carol, your brand of “culture” is completely fine with me. I don’t like a–holes either. 

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