AKINYEMI: Yahoo is a lesson on how one can walk with eyes wide shut

Thursday August 8 2019

A sign in front of the Yahoo! headquarters in Sunnyvale.

A sign in front of the Yahoo! headquarters in Sunnyvale. Yahoo, it appears, has had intelligent leadership but somehow, their intelligence did not serve it well. PHOTO | JUSTIN SULLIVAN | AFP 

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Few people remember today that before Facebook or Google there was another king who ruled the Internet like a colossus. The king was at the time literally synonymous with the Internet.

In the words of Jeremy Ring, a one-time sales executive at this tech giant: “Our company was five years old,” and “We were worth more than Ford, Chrysler, and GM combined.

Hell, we were worth more than Disney, Viacom, and News Corp combined. Each of those great American brands could have been swallowed up by us.”
This Internet behemoth was worth a whopping $125 billion at its peak but was sold to Verizon for a mere $5 billion. What a tragic end to what was once a most promising story.

It all started in January 1994 as a website named Jerry and David’s Guide to the World Wide Web. In April of the same year, it was renamed to “Yet Another Hierarchically Organised Oracle” or Yahoo as it would come to be known as.

A giant is born

In January 1995 the Yahoo.com domain was created and the rest they say is history. Yahoo dominated the Internet. For many people the Yahoo address was the first email address they had.


Yahoo had a golden opportunity to buy Google for $1 million — an opportunity that it missed. It had an opportunity to buy Facebook for $1.1 billion and yet again, it missed this opportunity. It also missed opportunities to acquire eBay and even YouTube.

In 2008, Microsoft would have paid $44.6 billion to acquire Yahoo but the offer was turned down by Jerry Yang, the then CEO of Yahoo.

Jan Koum and Brian Acton were former Yahoo employees who created WhatsApp, which was bought by Facebook for $19 billion—another miss for Yahoo taken from right under its noses.

Yahoo, it appears, has had intelligent leadership but somehow, their intelligence did not serve it well.

What could be more important that intelligence?

Now let us go to the other end of the world in a totally different scenario. Robert Mugabe was the strongman of Zimbabwe. He had come in as a liberator whom the people cheered into power.

He was loved by all and celebrated the world over. When he was forced out of power, again people rejoiced.

When Sani Abacha announced on December 31, 1983 that the Nigerian army had terminated the Shehu Shagari administration, it was received with great joy. Abacha was the hero of the day.

This coup eventually led to Gen Muhammadu Buhari being named head of state but Gen Abacha remained the hero. Years later, when the 1993 presidential elections got annulled by Ibrahim Babangida, who had himself overthrown Buhari in a palace coup, it was Abacha that Nigerians looked to for help.

Very senior and respected figures in the Nigerian state requested Abacha to take over the government.

He did and there was once again expectation that Abacha would be the saviour of Nigerian democracy.

Abacha’s would go on to become one of the most repressive and totalitarian regimes in Africa’s history. Many people lost their lives just for opposing him. Many of Nigeria’s top minds had to flee the country and live in exile.

The day Abacha died, everyone remembers where they were when they heard the “good” news.

There was joy everywhere. Even the police manning checkpoints on the roads were congratulating people as they drove by. The joy across Nigeria was real and it was visibly expressed on the streets.

What do Yahoo and Abacha have in common?

They both got to a point where there was no more connection between them and the people. Their reality was not the peoples’ reality.

They eventually discovered that money, intelligence, power and titles could not save them from the power of disconnection from people. They had the money, the intelligence and the power. They had the titles but none of these worked for them.

They were learning first-hand that nothing can save or deliver one from the consuming power of irrelevance.

Irrelevance has no regard for power and neither does it respect titles. You can be rich and irrelevant, powerful and irrelevant and also intelligent and irrelevant.

You can be a title holder and still be irrelevant.

Relevance is the power that is greater than money, greater than titles, greater than power and is beyond intelligence.

The decline of any entity can always be traced back to the day when it began to lose relevance. It has destroyed companies, nations, religious movements, theories, kings and queens, emperors and dynasties.

Irrelevance is a tsunami that sweeps away everything in its path and not even prayer can save the most pious from the consuming power of irrelevance.

The sad conclusion is that the relevant are not always intelligent. Great shall be the day when the intelligent in Africa become relevant.

Wale Akinyemi is the chief transformation officer, PowerTalks.