Yahoo's CEO Saga: Fake Degrees and Boardroom Battles

Ah, Yahoo -- it gives and it gives and it gives, and what does it ask for in return? Only snickering mixed with incredulity. Just when it looked like things couldn't get worse for the Web 1.0 giant that cannot seem to make it in a 2.0 world, the bottom fell further.

It turns out that freshly minted CEO Scott Thompson, who has claimed to have a degree in computer science from Stonehill College since his days at PayPal, doesn't actually have a degree in computer science but rather in accounting. (For the record, I would never consider padding my resume to include a fake degree. No sir, not me.)

Yahoo called that small oversight in its vetting process an "inadvertent error," apparently to distinguish it from all the advertent errors it has made lately. Maybe advertising for the position on Craigslist wasn't such a smart idea after all.

Thompson got outed by board member Dan Loeb, who apparently has had it in for Thompson ever since he was named CEO and will likely be filing a splashy lawsuit demanding every document Yahoo has ever produced with Thompson's name on it.

Gee, a high-tech CEO brought down by a disgruntled board member -- where have I heard that before? Oh yeah -- at Yahoo, about a half-dozen times now. That story is familiar to anyone who's followed Yahoo's frankly hilarious history over the last five years. The names of the cast members may change, but the clown suits remain the same.

Now everyone is either calling for Thompson's head or speculating about what Yahoo will do. AllThingsD's Kara Swisher reports that morale at Yahoo is at an all-time low. That's a bit like saying temperatures in Antarctica are at an all-time low. Once you get below minus 40, does it really matter?

Yahoo CEO Scott Thompson
Yahoo CEO Scott Thompson
At least Thompson is in good company. Litigation support and security firm Marquet International maintains a list called the Resume Liars Club featuring the names of more than 60 notable execs and public officials who got a bit too creative with their CVs. Here are a few of the memorable ones:

  • Former Veritas CFO Kenneth Lonchar claimed to have an accounting degree from Arizona State and an MBA from Stanford, when all he had was a BA from Idaho State. Veritas is Latin for "truth," but apparently Lonchar didn't study Latin either. He resigned shortly thereafter in 2002.
  • Former RadioShack el jefe David Edmondson claimed he had degrees in theology and psychology from Pacific Coast Baptist College. It turns out he dropped out after two semesters. After the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported the discrepancy in 2006, Edmonson didn't have a prayer of keeping his job.
  • Laura Callahan, a senior director in the CIO office at the Department of Homeland Security, claimed a trifecta of degrees in computer science from Hamilton University, including a doctorate. The problem? Hamilton U "turns out to be a diploma mill based in a converted motel in Evanston, Wyoming, offering degrees with little or no coursework for a fee," per Marquet. That explains their school mascot, the Fighting Fakers. Callahan left the DHS in 2004.
  • Jeff Papows, former CEO of Lotus, built his career on a Munchausen-worthy tower of lies. He claimed to have been a war hero fighter pilot (he was an air traffic controller in the Marines) with a doctorate from Pepperdine (actually from a diploma mill) and a black belt in tae kwan do (red belt) who was also an orphan (which his parents were very much surprised to learn). This much at least is true: Papows resigned in January 2000.
  • On the other hand, Ronald Zarella, CEO at Bausch & Lomb from 2001 to 2008, claimed an MBA he never actually earned. The contact lens maker couldn't see the point in firing him, though it did take back a $1.1 million bonus.

If these five examples are any indication, there's an 80 percent chance we may have a new Yahoo CEO to kick around. Then again, maybe not. Because frankly, given the desperate state Yahoo is in, a CEO with a trumped-up resume really is the least of its problems. Who in their right mind would take that job at this point?

Should Thompson step down? And if so, who would be crazy enough to replace him? Cast your votes below or email me: cringe@infoworld.com.

This article, "Yahoo's CEO saga: Fake degrees and boardroom battles," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Follow the crazy twists and turns of the tech industry with Robert X. Cringely's Notes from the Field blog, and subscribe to Cringely's Notes from the Underground newsletter.

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