Yahoos fear loss of fun-loving culture

SUNNYVALE, Calif. Sat Feb 2, 2008 8:44pm IST

A man drives a Mini Cooper with a Yahoo! logo in front of Yahoo! headquarters in Sunnyvale, February 1, 2008. Yahoo Inc employees fretted on Friday that their fun-loving culture, summed up by early company ads featuring a cowboy yodel, could get quashed by the comparatively stodgy software behemoth that wants to gobble it up. REUTERS/Kimberly White

A man drives a Mini Cooper with a Yahoo! logo in front of Yahoo! headquarters in Sunnyvale, February 1, 2008. Yahoo Inc employees fretted on Friday that their fun-loving culture, summed up by early company ads featuring a cowboy yodel, could get quashed by the comparatively stodgy software behemoth that wants to gobble it up.

Credit: Reuters/Kimberly White

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SUNNYVALE, Calif. (Reuters) - Will Yahoos' yodels be silenced?

Yahoo Inc employees fretted on Friday that their fun-loving culture, summed up by early company ads featuring a cowboy yodel, could get quashed by the comparatively stodgy software behemoth that wants to gobble it up.

On a crisp, sunny morning just hours after Microsoft Corp announced a $44.6 billion bid for the Internet company, "Yahoos" at its Silicon Valley campus milled about with coffee cups outside the low-rise buildings.

One engineer taking a cigarette break in the grassy plaza in Sunnyvale, California, said Microsoft's move raised difficult questions for Yahoos. The woman, who was in her late 30s, would not give her name due to corporate rules against unauthorized contacts with reporters.

"Everyone sees Microsoft as the big octopus from '20,000 Leagues Under the Sea' that wants to swallow everybody up," she said.

The Silicon Valley veteran said she had previously worked at Adobe Systems Inc, eBay Inc, Nortel and even Microsoft itself. "I really don't know," she said, when asked what it felt like to possibly work for Microsoft again.

Yahoo definitely sees itself as different from other companies. On its site for prospective employees it says, "We believe humor is essential to success. We applaud irreverence and don't take ourselves too seriously. We celebrate achievement. We yodel."

But the company has been singing the blues lately.

Some workers saw the Microsoft bid as a welcome vote of confidence in Yahoo, which has struggled against market leader Google Inc.

"It's really ambivalent here. A lot of people feel like the stock has taken such a battering, that to have renewed interest in us, that lifts spirits a bit," said one headquarters employee who was reached by phone.

A Yahoo technical employee said the other workers he had spoken to were "pretty measured" about the prospect of a takeover, and mergers were part of life in Silicon Valley.

"I have been through other integrations before at Yahoo," he said.

Several Yahoo employees said they believed Jerry Yang, the co-founder who took over as chief executive last June, would do what is best for the company and its employees.

"I trust Jerry to make the right decision," the former Microsoft employee said. "He inherited a big mess."

A former Yahoo vice president who left the company six months ago saw the Microsoft bid as a positive development for a company whose fortunes have soured.

"Morale has been so bad. They've been bombarded with bad news for the past two years," she said, adding that she had been communicating with Yahoo employees via instant messaging all day. "This looks to me like a positive option. I think they should go for it and I think they will."

The big question for many employees, however, was whether Yahoo's free-spirited, go-getting culture would be embraced by a decades-old tech giant.

"A lot of people feel like it would be a culture clash," said the employee interviewed over the phone. "There's a sense that over time Yahoo has moved away from its entrepreneurial roots. If we're acquired by Microsoft, we'd be moving even further away from that."

The former Yahoo VP agreed.

"There is a whole atmosphere of fun which they have tried to imbue in the culture. I would hope that wouldn't change," she said. "That is why they have been able to retain such amazing talent."

(Additional reporting by Dan Wilchins in New York and Jim Finkle in Boston)

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