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She Bites

Vivia Chen

September 9, 2011

Carol_Bartz Wow. Did you catch how Carol Bartz chewed up Yahoo! Inc. chairman Roy Bostock when he fired her as the company's CEO a few days ago? Let's just say she spoke from the gut.

Here's how Fortune relays that conversation:

When [Bostock] got on the line, [Bartz] says, he started reading a lawyer's prepared statement to dismiss her.

"I said, 'Roy, I think that's a script,'" adding, "'Why don't you have the balls to tell me yourself?'"

When Bostock finished reading, Bartz didn't argue--"I got it. I got it," she told the Yahoo chairman. "I thought you were classier," she added.

And instead of letting Yahoo spin the dismissal, Bartz dodged the company's lawyers (she switched hotels) and went off to pen her own announcement to Yahoo's employees. Here's what she fired off: "I am very sad to tell you that I've just been fired over the phone by Yahoo's chairman of the board."

Then, less than 24 hours later, she was on the phone with Fortune's Patricia Sellers (Bartz gave the magazine an exclusive), mincing no words about how she got dumped: “These people fucked me over.”

Unlike most fired executives, Bartz did not go gently into the night. Indeed, she violated almost every rule of corporate etiquette about making a proper exit. She went AWOL. She called the press to air dirty laundry. And she took swipes at her former colleagues. It was rude, unprofessional, and so unladylike.

But how good it must have felt! I mean, who hasn't fantasized about telling off a partner or boss that you feel has screwed you?

Now the sticky part: Sure, it's cathartic to leave in a blaze of glory, but is it wise to do so? And if you're a woman, will you pay a heftier price for such audacity?

Susannah Breslin, a contributor at Forbes, thinks Bartz handled it brilliantly. Breslin gives three reasons why Bartz came out ahead (text follows):

1. She’s alpha-dogging. She may be on the wrong end of the firing squad, but instead of folding, she’s declared war. . . . If Bartz plays by the rules, all she gets is walked all over.

2. She controls the conversation. By operating outside of the traditional “what’s proper,” Bartz has reframed the conversation. Now, not only is she controlling the story, she is the story. . . . In her version, the story shifts from her perceived failure to the company’s perceived failings.

3. She’s a role model. Read most career advice targeting women, and you’ll hear the same refrain. Wear this. Say this. Smile. Be positive. Make friends. Do your job. One, day you’ll get ahead. The sad truth? It isn’t working.

Role model? I'd say Bartz is more inspiration than role model. The rebel in me would love to say: You go, girl! Raise hell if you feel you've been badly treated in your job.

But let's get real: How many of us are in her position? She's one of the few top women in Silicon Valley. She's a celeb, and celebs can do what they want. And let's not forget the obvious: She can afford to burn bridges; she probably has a very hefty severance package coming her way.

So what about us mortals? We're likely to follow the script and move quietly to the next imperfect job. Still, a little vicarious pleasure doesn't hurt.


Related post: Wave Bye-Bye.

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Photo: Yahoo! Blog


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I did something similar when I left my job, and was subjected to a steady stream of defamation in the press. And I'm not a woman. Of course, why let facts get in the way of bogus gender discrimination claims? So inconvenient.

She's an alpha dog??

Yahoo sucks. I used to use their email and the glitches got worse and worse - it's been corrupted for years, someone hacks in and sends out weird little spams from my old address (not accessed in 5 years) and all my friends who still use it. They offer no help on their web site and bluntly say that emails about problems will not be read or answered. If it was anything but an internet company, they would have folded from incompetence long ago.
I'm not surprised by this story, I figured men like Bostock were in charge. They've probably fired everyone there who could actually make the programs work, so they could put more $$ in their pockets... That seems more and more common now... Ok, Julia, stop venting! :-)

Petulant, vain and stupid. See elsewhere, but it seems she may have put her severance package in jeopardy.

She's always been an outspoken character so I think they way she did things is in a manner that most people would expect from her.

I say good for her, and I'd bet that she'd have done it exactly the same way if there were no severance package. If more people in her position reacted as strongly and as frankly as she did weasels like Bostock would be a lot less comfortable -- and eventually a lot less powerful. Good stuff.

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The Careerist takes an inside look at how lawyers shape their careers and manage their lives. The blog aims to dissect developments in the profession, provide useful information and advice, and give lawyers a platform to voice their views. The goal is to provide a fresh, provocative take on the state of lawyering.

About Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen, The Careerist's chief blogger, has been covering the business and culture of law firms for a decade. A former corporate lawyer, Chen is fascinated by those who thrive (as well as those who don't) in the legal profession. Her take: Success in the law (and life) doesn't always travel a linear path. If you have topics you'd like to discuss or information to share, contact her: VChen@alm.com

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