Jeffrey Bernard’s Low Life column in The Spectator magazine chronicled his drinking, gambling and womanising ways through the 1970s to the 1990s and was once dubbed “a suicide note written in weekly instalments”. Having watched the sorry saga of Yahoo’s attempts to avoid being acquired by Microsoft, I’m confident that the phrase could be equally well applied.
When the news broke of Microsoft’s offer to acquire Yahoo, I was asked to appear on the BBC TV and radio programmes. I noted then that this was not a done deal but I said that it would surely go ahead so long as the usual regulators and red-tape merchants kept their snouts out. Microsoft had offered a fat premium for a company that was flatter than Holland. Yes, there were cultural issues to be addressed and there would be a ton of crossover in services but this looked a deal capable of shaking Google. It was good for Microsoft, which has been making faltering progress on the internet for a few years now, good for Yahoo’s shareholders, and good for consumers and ad buyers because, all of a sudden, Google had competition. Yahoo had better have a good reason for turning down Microsoft, I said back then. I’m still waiting to hear it.
The announcement that Yahoo has called off all talks with Microsoft completes a comedy of errors and bloody-mindedness. In business, people don’t always get on but differences of approach should not stop appropriate business decisions being made. Yahoo has made a terrible call and Google’s dominance is ever more pronounced.
Congratulations, Jerry Yang and fellow board members, and now let’s watch a (very) long game of internet Monopoly.