Steve gets help from Carl in tackling Jerry

John Shinal · May 19, 2008 · Short URL:

 The ongoing saga between Microsoft and Yahoo is about more than what price Steve Ballmer is willing to pay to get the strategic benefits of owning his Internet rival.

When it comes to deal negotiations, the personalities of the executives involved -- not to mention their motivations -- will play a large part in whether a deal gets done and what it will look like.

So far, Yahoo CEO has proved too nimble -- or too foolish, to hear some Yahoo shareholders tell it -- to let himself be wrapped up in a big Ballmer bear hug. 

As a co-founder of the company, Yang has as much interest in anyone in seeing Yahoo survive, either intact or in a form that preserves its core businesses. The Yahoo board surely knew this when it brought Yang back to spearhead its efforts to make its search-ad technology as lucrative as Google's.

Yet given that Yahoo is considering using Google's search ad technology to boost revenue, as well as continuing gains by Google for search market share, Yang's effort can only be seen as a failure.

A double failure, in fact, because the talk of a Google-Yahoo search ad partnership was one of the main factors that torpedoed Microsoft's acquisition of Yahoo, according to Ballmer.

To see's previous coverage of the Yahoo-Microsoft talks, click here. 

Now, Microsoft has come back to talk to Yahoo again, not  about an outright acquisition, but to strike its own ad deal and thereby scuttle Yahoo's possible Google partnership. Given how Yahoo has behaved so far, my guess is Yang would prefer to do such a deal with fellow Silicon Valley firm Google than with  the collossus of Redmond.

But the appearance of activist investor Carl Icahn on the field could help tilt the odds in favor of Ballmer succeeding in buying Yahoo after all.

Icahn's reputation for tenacity, and his success in getting his own partners named to boards of companies in which he's amassed stakes, will embolden other shareholders still feeling jilted when Yang turned down Ballmer's last $43 billion offer.

Any change to the Yahoo board,  or even the threat of the turnover of a few seats, could spur some board members to pressure Yang to accept Microsoft's last bid.

Ballmer willingness to bid against Google for the right to sign an ad partnership deal with Yahoo may help Yahoo get better terms for such a deal. At the same time, though, Ballmer's coyness -- he says he's no longer interested in buying all of Yahoo -- combined with Icahn's agitation, may ultimately help Microsoft acquire Yahoo for a price that is less than what Ballmer offered just weeks ago.

As we've written before, Yahoo's days as an independent company are numbered, even if its final demise takes a year or two. But if Ballmer can drive a wedge between Yahoo and Google by offering more favorable terms for a search ad partnership, at the same time Icahn turns up the heat on Yahoo's board regarding an outright sale, Ballmer might be able to get Yang into that bear hug sooner rather than later.

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