Yahoo’s new CEO, Scott Thompson, yesterday garnered attention for telling the Securities and Exchange Commission – and Yahoo’s board of directors – that he had a computer science degree from Stonehill College when he does not have one.
“You guys might want to cover this before he resigns tomorrow,” one reader emailed TechCrunch yesterday. That’s a reasonable prognosis, since this could cost Thompson his job.
While other companies such as Facebook are busy advancing the world forward in innovation, this gentleman is bringing a lawsuit against the social megalith concerning some old patents that supposedly are infringing on the almost-obsolete web portal.
Formally, Thompson has a Bachelor’s of Science in Business Administration (Accounting). For more than a decade of his career, Thompson has said that he earned a computer science degree from Stonehill College, which is outside Boston. Yesterday, that discrepancy finally was exposed by Daniel Loeb, a Yahoo shareholder, whose firm discovered that Thompson actually had gotten an accounting degree. Loeb is the hedge fund manager of Third Point, who is also in the middle of a proxy war against Yahoo. This latest episode represents a trend of activist investors such as Loeb, frustrated at Yahoo’s blunders and trying to come up with a better plan for the company’s survival.
When Thompson spoke at Web 2.0 in 2010, the screengrab said: “Scott received a bachelor’s degree in accounting and computer science from Stonehill College.”
It’s debatable whether statements like this deliberately were misleading. Thompson’s primary concentration in college was accounting.
An important question is: Does someone need a computer science degree – especially from the ’70s – in order to be competent in a technology field now? Or does the principle of complete honesty override even the greatest competency?
A technology degree isn’t a job requirement in a world where anyone can learn to code, where even college dropouts are having a huge impact on the tech industry – case in point, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.
But it probably was more important earlier in Thompson’s career, while he was advancing the ranks of companies at his past jobs. Before he joined Yahoo in January, he was the president of PayPal for seven years and before that he was chief information officer at Barclays Global Investors, “where he implemented a new strategic technology platform and global infrastructure.”
It’s possible that Thompson demonstrated the appropriate technical skills in these past positions, even if Yahoo failed to completely vet his background. On both Yahoo’s website and in the SEC’s regulatory filings of the company, Thompson is described as having a degree in both computer science and accounting from Stone Hill College.
Yahoo’s response is that his misleading bio was “an inadvertent error.” If that’s true, it still doesn’t do much to help the already-ailing internet company whose biggest success was during the dot-com boom of the late-’90s. It’s ironic that a search engine company would not know that even Thompson’s alma mater still describes him as an accounting major.
Yesterday afternoon Yahoo released a statement that its board will “review” the evidence that was presented against its CEO, then make an “appropriate disclosure” about what happened.
Yahoo said in full in its statement:
“In connection with the statement the company made earlier today about Scott Thompson, the Yahoo! board will be reviewing this matter, and upon completion of its review, will make an appropriate disclosure to shareholders.”
Depending on what is discovered about how the error got into Yahoo’s records as well as the SEC’s filings, Thompson himself may not personally be responsible for the misinformation. It’s uncertain right now whether there will be any legal implications, and the resolution may be as simple as Yahoo correcting the information with the SEC.
Scott Thompson’s LinkedIn profile does not presently specify what discipline he earned his Bachelor of Science at StoneHill College.