Yang's power play

April 25, 2008: 3:05 PM ET

By Scott Moritz, writer

There may be more than money to consider in the Microsoft-Yahoo standoff.

Microsoft (MSFT) has given Yahoo a deadline of Saturday to accept its buyout offer (or, presumably, at least at start serious talks) or risk triggering a hostile takeover battle. Yahoo wants a higher offer -- a demand that Microsoft has so far rebuffed.

But the focus on price may be missing a key subtlety behind the impasse.

One possible stumbling block might be Yahoo CEO and co-founder Jerry Yang's role in a combined company. As displeased as Yang may be by the prospect of joining forces with Yahoo's culturally-mismatched rival, some observers say he could be open to a leadership role in the merged Internet division.

"I've always believed Jerry Yang wants do something bigger with Yahoo," as opposed to watching it dissolve into the works of a bigger company, says an analyst who has known Yang since Yahoo went public in 1996. "He's Jerry Yahoo, that's really who he is."

Yahoo has been exploring other options, including a possible tie up with the AOL division of Time Warner (TWX) and an advertising partnership with rival Google (GOOG) to help outsource some of its ads and trim costs. But almost any type of hookup between the No.1 and No.2 online ad giants seemed fraught with antitrust concerns.

Without a better offer in sight, Yang and the board will likely have to sit down with Microsoft over the weekend and negotiate. If Microsoft told Yang that he would play a top role in the combined company, it might sway the Yahoo founder, says the analyst, who did not want to be identified.

"He's already a billionaire," adds the analyst, referring to Yang. "What he wants is his brand to be massive. When the history of the Internet is written it will feature names like [Amazon (AMZN) chief Jeff] Bezos, [Google CEO] Schmidt, Page, [AOL founder Steve] Case. Yang wants to be there."

Stay tuned.

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