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Now hiring in Silicon Valley

High-profile openings at Microsoft, Yahoo, and ... Google?

By Michael V. Copeland and Adam Lashinsky, senior writers
December 1, 2008: 10:09 AM ET

eric_schmidt.03.jpg
Is Schmidt heading for D.C.?

(Fortune Magazine) -- Nature abhors a vacuum, but apparently not in Silicon Valley, where it may not be easy to fill some very prominent vacancies. Right now you've got Jerry Yang abdicating at Yahoo, and Microsoft is looking for someone to run its online division. And there are persistent rumors that another huge job might be opening up at Google.

But let's look at those first two jobs. Yahoo (YHOO, Fortune 500) is still the web's busiest property, and Microsoft (MSFT, Fortune 500) desperately needs to get the Internet right. Given that, you'd think it'd be easy to fill two of highest-profile jobs in technology. It isn't. That's why Yang was left in an unsuitable position for 17 months, and why MSN has been leaderless since Kevin Johnson decamped for Juniper in July.

Each company has its own issues as well as a common nemesis: Google (GOOG, Fortune 500). Yahoo is the leader in online display ads but can't keep up with Google in search. And even after repeated layoffs, someone taking over Yahoo will need to continue to cut the fat. For Microsoft, as the accompanying article describes, cutting isn't the problem. Focus is.

The problem both companies are having in hiring is the complexity of the task. "Great entrepreneurs are afraid to go into these organizations," says Paul Gardi, who had a senior role at IAC and helped found music startup Project Playlist. "You tend to get stuck in mud."

Now Google. If CEO Eric Schmidt is stuck in anything, it would be in a sense of civic duty. He frequently huddles with the President-elect's economic team and is widely considered a candidate for some sort of Obama administration gig. Although Schmidt has politely said no when asked if he is White House-bound, speculation about his ambitions has become a parlor game in Silicon Valley.

Google has brought Schmidt billions and a world-class business reputation. But for the first time in its short existence, the company is facing some economic headwinds, and GOOG is trading at around $300, a three-year low. "How much better can he do at Google?" asks Jeff Bonforte, a former Yahoo search VP and CEO of startup Xobni. "Staying might actually hurt his legacy. And he can go to Washington and help run the nation? That's pretty sexy."

But let's say Schmidt really does want to stay in Silicon Valley. Maybe what he needs is a bigger challenge. If Schmidt wants to be a hero, here's an idea: Perhaps he should run Yahoo. Whoever turns that company around - or simply keeps it together long enough to be sold - will bask in glory for years.  To top of page

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