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Yahoo CEO’s exit: debacle for company, and a warning for resume padders

Scott Thompson was hired as Yahoo CEO – the embattled company's fourth in five years – for his record as an executive, not the degrees on his resume. But the fabrication was costly. 

By Staff writer / May 14, 2012

Scott Thompson, Yahoo's CEO, is stepping down after revelations that a computer science degree on his resume and some securities filings.

Wong Maye-E/AP/File

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The departure of Scott Thompson as CEO of Yahoo Inc. over the weekend poses a new challenge for the struggling firm, but it's also a cautionary tale that ripples beyond the high-tech industry.

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The lesson: Padding a resume with fabrications or half-truths can be dangerous to your career.

In Mr. Thompson's case, his resignation was prompted by a recent uproar over an inaccuracy in his biography on the company's website and in a recent filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission. The bio listed bachelor degrees in accounting and computer science from Stonehill College near Boston. A dissident Yahoo shareholder discovered that Thompson had never earned the computer science degree.

On its face, that may not sound like an automatic career ender. Thompson was hired for his performance as an executive, most recently at the Paypal online payments firm, not for his record as an undergraduate more than two decades earlier.

But Yahoo's staff and shareholders were already in turmoil over the embattled company's long struggle to find its way in a tech world now dominated by the likes of Google and Facebook. With the recently arrived chief executive facing doubts from Day 1 about whether he was the right person to chart a course, that nonexistent computer science degree stirred deep concerns.

The Wall Street Journal reported an additional twist in the story Monday: Thompson told the board last week about a medical diagnosis that contributed to his decision to step down.

As Thompson leaves, the prominent shareholder who sought his ouster stands to gain significant new power. Daniel Loeb, who wrote a May 3 letter to Yahoo's board describing the biographical falsehood, already controls a 5.8 percent stake in the company through his Third Point hedge fund. Now Yahoo is reshuffling its board, with four members departing, and Loeb named to fill one of those seats. Two of his allies, former MTV Networks executive Michael Wolf and turnaround specialist Harry Wilson, will also join Yahoo's board.

This kind of high-profile upheaval over a biography doesn't happen every day. For one thing, many companies aren't, like Yahoo, wracked with strategic problems that boil down to a corporate version of the existential question, "who am I." Had Yahoo been less troubled, perhaps the missing computer science degree wouldn't have inflamed doubts about Thompson.

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