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CASE: HR-25A

DATE: 05/05/04

YAHOO! – A NEW HR CHALLENGE (A)
“Yahoo! said it will have to cut 12 percent of its 3,510-person global work force to lower its costs
during the current advertising slump.”
The Wall Street Journal, April 18, 2001

“It was a first for Yahoo!, so there was a lot of emotion. It was such rapid growth in three years,
and then it was gone.”
— Pranesh Anthapur, Vice President, Human Resources, Yahoo!

Purple and yellow adorned the walls and furniture in the company commissary where an
afternoon reception was being held for Libby Sartain, Yahoo!’s new chief of people and SVP of
human resources. It was August 2001, her first month on the job, and Sartain was busy asking
people what was on their minds. What she heard was uncertainty as well as anxiety and fear.
Since the dot-com bubble burst, online advertising had slumped, Yahoo!’s revenues had
suffered, the stock price had plummeted 86 percent, several top executives had resigned, and
management had announced the first-ever layoffs at the company in April of that year. (See
Exhibit 1 for a chart of Yahoo!’s stock price.) New CEO Terry Semel, former co-CEO of
Warner Brothers, had arrived in May but had not yet provided his new plan for the company.

Given her career in HR, most recently as VP of people at Southwest Airlines, Sartain could
understand the growing pains. In her first HR job, she had been given the unpleasant task of
preparing the layoff packages for her company. When she later confided to her boss how terrible
it had been, he said, “It’s about to get even tougher. You have one more layoff package to
prepare for yourself.”1

Looking at the people around her at Yahoo!, Sartain was characteristically optimistic. The
board’s appointment of Semel, a well-respected veteran of traditional media businesses, signaled
a new direction for the company. Semel had also promised a long-term approach to running and
growing the company, which had attracted Sartain. “Terry was so focused on bench strength.
He said, ‘We’re looking at businesses to buy, and we might not have anyone to run them. I need
someone to come in here and help me find great leaders who can make money.’”2

1
Libby Sartain and Martha I. Finney, “HR from the Heart,” AMACOM, 2003, p. 225.
2
Bill Breen, “She’s Helping Yahoo Act Normal,” Fast Company, May 2003, p. 94.

Charles Catalano prepared this case under the supervision of Professor Charles O’Reilly as the basis for class discussion rather
than to illustrate either effective or ineffective handling of an administrative situation.
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Yahoo! A New HR Challenge HR-25A p. “Libby Sartain. 94. 1997. as the person most directly responsible for the people at Yahoo!. she turned away the advances of two airlines in deciding to join Yahoo!.” Fast Company. ‘Where do we go from here?’4 Sartain asked herself the same question. 6 Bill Leonard. candidates – Jerry Yang and David Filo – as a way to avoid work on their dissertations. in the self-effacing manner characteristic of both founders. January 2001. which she considered more of a calling than a career.000 employees during her tenure as VP of people. 94. 7 Yahoo! Dave and Jerry’s Excellent Venture.5 Southwest doubled in size every 3 to 5 years during Sartain’s tenure.7 Yang and Filo originally called the Web directory “Jerry’s Guide to the World Wide Web. the head of compensation and benefits had also left at about the same time. Her interest in recruiting had held a personal importance ever since college when she recruited a young man named David to the student branch of that professional society. Company Background Taking Flight Yahoo! grew from humble beginnings in 1994 as a Web guide created by two Stanford electrical engineering Ph.” Fast Company.500 employees when she started. “Ready To Soar. and it just so happened that David one day decided to come up with something that sort of kept track of his favorites and what everyone else’s favorites were. where should she and her HR organization go from here? Sartain’s Background Sartain brought many years of experience and accomplishment in HR. The Stanford Channel. Seeking a change after Southwest. Sartain had responsibility for overseeing 300 HR staff and serving on the executive planning committee. “She’s Helping Yahoo Act Normal. January 2001. .D. drawn by the importance the company placed on its employees.”3 Sartain thought. “She’s Helping Yahoo Act Normal. and a changing leadership. Over her 13 years at Southwest Airlines.” renaming it Yahoo! as early Web enthusiasts began visiting the site in increasing numbers. May 2003. p. 4 Bill Breen. May 2003. “Now they’re looking for some clarity in their careers. She also dedicated herself to HR causes outside the office and was a lifelong volunteer for the Society of Human Resource Management. (video program). Sartain joined Southwest in 1988 as director of compensation and benefits. the last six and a half as VP of people. He eventually became her husband. Sartain played a significant role in establishing Southwest’s renown as a company that achieved extraordinary success through the treatment of its people. “Southwest was way ahead of its time in recognizing that its success was due to the efforts of its people. which fit the key criteria she had been seeking: a young but established company with great promise.” said Sartain.” Training. (Yang. Southwest Airlines. to 32.) Filo claimed that the interest in their 3 Bill Breen. “We were playing on the Web.6 Sartain’s career had included HR work in a variety of industries including high-tech banking services. like everyone else was. strong brand. cosmetics. 5 Kristine Ellis. she needed to understand the problems that had developed over the turmoil of the last two years and what it would take to smooth out the ride.” HR Magazine.” Yang recalled. did not feel right taking all the credit. They’re asking. 2 “This is the most fantastic opportunity in the world. and electronics manufacturing. But first. p. The position had opened when the head of Yahoo! HR departed. growing from 6. Vice President of People.

December. 15 Karen Angel. there we were in our trailer watching it on our computers every day. We’re trying to promote the brand and build the product so that it has reliability. 43-44..) Product strategy: Yahoo! focused on user experience as opposed to raw performance and total number of pages indexed. and understood what the Internet was all about…”12 Yahoo! started with a basic strategy that remained essentially unchanged from their early days through the period of hyper-growth in the late 1990s. probably a couple thousand people a day.”10 Filo observed.”11 Moritz was also responsible for bringing in Tim “TK” Koogle.”15 Service platform strategy: A variety of services shared the Yahoo! brand although the functionality was sometimes obtained through partnerships. “As it turned out. you sort of hear about things going through exponential growth. “When looking for a CEO our biggest concern was just finding someone who would fit in. The Stanford Channel. Branding concerns predominated business dealings — including partnership activities — even more than revenues.” Yang proclaimed. and credibility. he and Filo had had the opportunity to see the fledgling Web grow right before their eyes. (video program). . a 9-year veteran of Motorola. fit was recognized as a critical part of Yahoo!’s organizational priorities. internal development and acquisitions. “Surprising to us. people did start using it and a couple months into it after we had first started to organize these things we probably had people from 40 different countries that were using it. Recalled Filo. 14 John Cassidy. 91.14 Branding strategy: Yahoo! exhibited a very early preoccupation with marketing its brand. 1997. 2002. pizzazz. 10 Ibid. Inc. 9 Ibid.”9 Yahoo!’s transformation from hobby to business began with the involvement of venture capitalist Mike Moritz of Sequoia Capital who saw visitors to the Yahoo! Web site as potential viewers of paid advertisements.Yahoo! A New HR Challenge HR-25A p. 3 site was unexpected. 11 Ibid. Dot.”8 As Yang recalled. “It was amazing. Yang recalled. 8 Yahoo! Dave and Jerry’s Excellent Venture. to run the company in August 1995. pp. 13 “Gateways to the Internet: America Online and Yahoo!” Stanford GSB Case. 12 Ibid. we’re brand. “We really didn’t know whether it was going to fly or not because until that time the Internet had been very much against commercialism. 2002. “We really wanted to keep the service free — that was a fundamental goal.13 (See Exhibit 2 for Yahoo!’s mission statement. Recalled Yang. Yahoo! relied on manual indexing of the Web (done by a team of workers known as “surfers”) and a selection of information services that were provided to users for free. launching a 1996 campaign with the “Do You Yahoo!?” tagline and spending heavily on TV commercials to reach the mass market. According to Yang. p. it never really ended up being a big deal.con—The Greatest Story Ever Sold. From the very beginning. Ibid. Inside Yahoo. John Wiley & Sons. “Primarily. 2000. #EC-24. HarperCollins.

Surfers not only classified new sites.) By the time of Sartain’s arrival. in some cases. The product specification might come from the company founders or the developers themselves. Marketing and sales encompassed three functions: corporate marketing. Yahoo! employee #3. spanned the entire organization. even earlier. In keeping with the strong cultural identity held by engineering. developed by “producers. Yahoo! had grown into a total of 44 distinct business groups and sub-groups. Property development consisted of the production.510 in spring of 2001.16 Yahoo! grew from 25 employees at its IPO in 1996 to 3. July 10. but from traditional consumer packaged-goods companies.e. Experimentation was highly encouraged and products were often given an initial “soft launch” (i.” Property development or production was one of three main groups into which the company was divided. launched in April 1996. In the early days. The international group included the increasing number of offices outside the U. the producer and the developer who did the actual coding were often one and the same. reflecting the founding principles of the Web. to scrap it entirely. note: Entire paragraph derived from HBS case text. consisting primarily of engineers.Yahoo! A New HR Challenge HR-25A p. (See Exhibit 3 for an overview of Yahoo! products and services. Yahoo! products and services were broadly categorized within property development. made available to a limited audience) which allowed user feedback to be obtained either to improve the product or. Sales people. engineering. Many of Yahoo!’s corporate marketers came not from Internet-related backgrounds. Business development led Yahoo!’s partnership and acquisition activities.] . A network services team was specifically responsible for the suite of products that supported or were integrated into the other product areas. and Disney and InfoSeek. such as Procter and Gamble. and were “leased” out to the different product areas. and formal mechanisms linking functions remained rare. ‘Producers’ were responsible for Yahoo!’s properties and services. Organizational Structure From the beginning. 4 Independence: Yahoo! prided itself on being open and independent. Yahoo!’s independence drew increasing attention during the high profile mergers in 1998 and 1999 involving Excite and AtHome cable. the engineers remained a separate group. [Ed.S. and surfing functions. The corporate marketing staff was responsible for developing the Yahoo! brand name among the Web-surfing and general public. in some cases. and business development. sales. Members of the surfing department combed through new Web sites and updated the directories in Yahoo! Search. sold the advertising inventory on Yahoo!’s 1 billion plus page-views per day. AOL and Netscape.” Harvard Business School Case. early backers and the leadership team saw Yahoo! as a media company rather than merely a Web search directory. New automated search technologies played an increasingly important role in Yahoo!’s search solution. was an extremely bright Stanford alumna whom Yang and Filo got to know during their graduate school experience. A technology group.” such as Travel or E-mail. Over time. Srinija Srinivasan. People naturally spoke about Yahoo!’s product as consisting of “properties. both internal and external. the company relied heavily on internal social networks. From Yahoo!’s earliest days. the first being Yahoo! Japan.. The leadership team consisted of people trusted by the founders who bonded during the start-up phase or. but they also alerted producers when they spotted a relevant site. 16 “Yahoo: Business on Internet Time. along with marketing and sales and international. 1999. The developing organization reflected the personalities and values of founders Yang and Filo.

long-time technical recruiter at Yahoo! and veteran of Silicon Graphics described it. more complex organization. consistent with the rest of the culture. “I never worked as hard in my life as I did for four years at Yahoo!. Yahoo!’s strong culture. As Ken Perluss. on Jan. innovative behavior was the norm. more than twice that of media giant Walt Disney Co.cit. 5 Srinivasan had come aboard to organize and manage the “surfers. Heather Green. “Didn’t matter if it was 2 p. despite being in the position of not having to work another day in his life if he chose. Linda Himelstein. . “At its peak. The pace of business had left minimal time to establish the systems and processes suitable for a larger. 2003. 3. infighting. p.”17 Hard work. 2000.m. The Dot-Com Boom – Yahoo! Soars Yahoo!’s fast growth during the dot-com boom in the late 1990s had impacted the development of its HR practices. and long hours persisted at Yahoo!. 18 Yahoo! Dave and Jerry’s Excellent Venture. 86. created extra challenges in the integration process. Yahoo! built capabilities through acquisitions.”21 “Up until the layoff my marching orders here were. 2001.” summed up one employee. Hierarchical job titles had traditionally been frowned upon. Stanford Communications. and management missteps derailed one of the hottest companies on the Web. a fast pace. 20 Ben Elgin.) Yahoo! maintained a collaborative environment in which the quality of the idea mattered more than the position or title of the source.”20 “The company as a whole was… growing in leaps and bounds. (Inside Yahoo. and if you had a great idea and it seemed like it might be cool. 22 Interview with Ken Perluss. Yahoo! Culture Yahoo! had always been considered a fun place to work.” and remained one of the company’s most highly regarded managers. so pervasive in the day-to-day activities of the company. most notably within the engineering group where business cards said simply “engineer.” Business Week. 2002. Yahoo!’s founders expressed their irreverent attitude in the meaning they attributed to the company name— “Yet Another Highly Officious Oracle.” recalled Srinivasan.m. which presented their own HR complications. tales of employees “sleeping under their cubes” after an all-nighter on the job were not uncommon. or 2 a. More conventional job titles were common elsewhere in the company as a result of growth and the desire to simplify relations with business partners.19 The colors purple and yellow were also part of the Yahoo! culture and. May 5. May 5.22 Training and leadership skills were largely developed on-the-job. in keeping with the habits established by Yang and Filo in their trailer days at Stanford. 2003. John Wiley & Sons. May 5. the company’s market cap was $128 billion. try it. Entrepreneurial. Filo himself was known for 24-plus hour marathon coding sessions. While the 17 Interview with Ken Perluss.” regardless of seniority. were hard to miss once you walked in the building. Inc... you just kind of knew that they were going to be there. a place where people didn’t take themselves too seriously. a total of four in 1998 and five in 1999.” (One of the first CEO candidates reportedly had vowed to change the company name and predictably did not get the job. Ronald Grover. (video program).’” recalled recruiter Perluss. May 21. “Inside Yahoo! The untold story of how arrogance. “We’d try anything. ‘Keep hiring until we tell you to stop. 2003.Yahoo! A New HR Challenge HR-25A p. 21 Interview with Pranesh Anthapur. [1998] 19 Karen Angel.) op.18 At Yahoo!. You just stopped being surprised by it.

Yahoo!’s director of compensation and benefits had departed previously and the position remained unfilled. In the eyes of some managers. Then they addressed the company at an all-hands meeting… They did their best to explain what was going on.” noted Holly Becker.”23 In 1999. and by April Semel was announced as the new CEO and president of Yahoo!. 2003. 2001. recruiting consisted of simply posting jobs and circulating resumes. the problem was “How do we hire fast enough for the company?”24 Emergency Landing The uncertainty and anxiety evident to Sartain in her first interactions with employees stemmed from the dramatic turn of events in 2000 and 2001. March 9. By February 2001. profitless dot-coms lost the marketing and advertising dollars they had been so lavishly spending.Yahoo! A New HR Challenge HR-25A p. and even apologized to the employees about what was going on. an analyst at Lehman Brothers. and constant rumors circulated about whether Yahoo! would remain independent or not. According to one Yahoo! manager. recruiting and staffing. many of them with Yahoo!. “Gang of Six: Coterie of Early Hires Made Yahoo! a Hit But an Insular Place. 23 Mylene Mangalindan and Suein L.992 from just 386 two years earlier. the HR group consisted of about 50 people covering the primary functions of compensation and benefits. 2003. HR Strategy Sartain’s initial conversations with employees made it clear that HR lacked a common vision or strategy in its approach to staffing and development. Yahoo! lacked a distinctive recruiting strategy or goals for talent acquisition that were adequately communicated and shared. recalled.”25 Human Resources at Yahoo! When Sartain joined Yahoo! in August 2001. May 5. but it also held them back from making forward-looking business decisions. 24 Interview with Pranesh Anthapur. the number of Yahoo! employees reached 1. and standard metrics did not exist. Founders Yang and Filo used the announcement to employees to acknowledge the collective feelings of the company. Becky Ribeiro. As analyst and investor confidence in the high tech industry began to erode. . Hwang. 25 Interview with Rebecca Ribeiro. May 5. According to Pranesh Anthapur. The same day as the Semel announcement. a manager in HR at the time. effective May 1. revenues dropped significantly. the mandate was simply to hire people. “Their culture helped them build a superb site and really edgy brand. four basic problems converged: new management was needed. a Yahoo! recruiting manager in HR.” The Wall Street Journal. Yahoo! disclosed a workforce reduction of 12 percent. 6 departure of top executives was common in any acquisition. Formal practices were underutilized in several functional areas within HR. the stock price fell drastically.… They were both pretty beaten up about it. During the boom. there was a sense on Wall Street that Yahoo! missed an opportunity to build and develop its management team for the long term. and general administration. “They actually did an internal broadcast first. as the team was leaving or living in fear. the Yahoo! board decided to ask CEO Tim Koogle to step down. Hiring Following the frenzy surrounding high tech firms during the dot-com boom.

employees claimed they did not know the HR staff well enough. talent at the company was not viewed. Yahoo! took advantage of its Web pages to recruit people with a demonstrated interest in the service and specific subject areas. Few things provided a greater psychic payoff for an engineer than creating something in code one day and then having it available to literally millions the next day. noted one Yahoo! recruiter. conducted according to the particular habits of the interviewer involved. For instance. Managers often subjected recruiters to “I need it now” demands. While the Yahoo! brand was strong. managers went to staffing as a “last resort. isolating them from business units. Prior to that. either internally or externally. Succession planning did not exist. technical recruiting posted job solicitation links on the pages of product areas where openings existed for engineering talent. systematic or objective. 7 In general. encouraged their employees to skip it. as a contributing factor to the brand strength. This successfully attracted candidates not only familiar with Yahoo!. and no process existed for anticipating talent needs in light of business targets or strategy. say Sports or Finance. despite the actual high quality of the workforce. Yahoo!’s on-boarding process consisted of a one-day orientation that familiarized new employees with the company culture. Most sourcing was reactive with little use of outside market intelligence. . Workforce planning received little or no formal attention. In general. Yahoo! HR presently did not have competency models or assessment and profiling tools. particularly within the Yahoo! culture where structure was typically perceived as a roadblock to getting things done. Some managers considered the process non-essential and. such as scouting. each job had been handled on a case-by-case basis. in some cases. Job Design HR had instituted job levels for the first time in 2001 with the assistance of an outside consulting firm. It focused on administrative details without addressing how Yahoo!’s businesses operated and made money. In some cases. Interviews. Yahoo! relied heavily on attracting employees with a natural passion for what the company did and an emotional interest in being part of the team. While some recruiters maintained better relationships than others. Standards were inconsistent across the company and not correlated to achievement or performance demands. but with a personal interest in the product category. communication between hiring managers and recruiting teams was minimal. and internal customer satisfaction was low. managers were not very familiar with how to use the job classification system and saw it as a bit constraining. without regard to any formal guidelines. Recruiters were functionally organized. In general. The caliber of Yahoo! employees was not a distinguishing characteristic of the company. the Yahoo! hiring process was not perceived as rigorous. Decisions to hire versus develop had traditionally defaulted to hiring. and there was no central database of skills and competencies in the workforce.” Managers perceived that staff were overwhelmed by administrative tasks which kept them from concentrating on the value-added aspects of their jobs.Yahoo! A New HR Challenge HR-25A p. Job posting and referrals that occurred after the need arose accounted for 54 percent of hires. were the primary screening mechanism.

many priced at around $190. People received incentive pay without formal notification explaining how much and why they had been paid. caused by the radical volatility of the stock price over the last two years. While sales had introduced team-based incentives. Management training was described as “minimalistic. was to take pride in the fact that Yahoo! as a company was one of the survivors.50 to $11. which was ill-equipped to handle the deductions. All employees. Most managers had limited experience or training in developing subordinates. However. This practice resulted from the technical limitations of the early payroll system. and the pace of the work did not encourage coaching. In return they had fun. a large number of outstanding options were presently under water. received free benefits with the exception of some elective medical benefits. and highly visible evidence of their work in the world. Given other pressing priorities during the dot-com boom. In addition. as Sartain saw it. Compensation and Benefits Compensation in terms of base salary was generally below average for the market. Vice presidents traditionally had no pay at risk. Management had issued more options to existing employees in an attempt to redress a perceived case of the haves and the have-nots. Yahoo! employees were used to receiving a promotion on average every 7 months. The high proportion of single employees (about two-thirds) and the relatively young average age of the Yahoo! workforce (33) helped make the present approach sustainable. As found at other Internet firms during the dot-com boom.” although some basic training programs were offered on topics such as project management.Yahoo! A New HR Challenge HR-25A p. 2001. . While attractive during the boom period. 8 Retention The average length of service at Yahoo! was 2. a sense of ownership in what they did.2 years. by the time Sartain arrived. many of Yahoo!’s employees had risen to new responsibilities surpassing their level of experience due to the company’s rapid growth. there was no established learning and development function within Yahoo! HR. leaders such as Yang felt it was justified in light of Yahoo!’s low base salaries. incentive pay had not existed. partly owing to Yahoo!’s egalitarian culture. the expectation of sudden riches had disappeared. which were offered to all full-time employees who received a chart with stock and vesting information illustrating how much the options would be worth. Training for the most part occurred on the job. including their families. Training and Development At the time that Sartain arrived.38. the stock price had ranged from $237. Founders Yang and Filo had never taken cash bonuses and continued to receive salaries drastically below market level. From January 1. talent management had been neglected. The opportunity at this point. and be resourceful and creative. 2000 to June 30. The programs needed greater communication support. Until 2001. For the most part. This was deliberate and meant to be offset by stock options. Yahoo! employees were expected to work hard. management incentives elsewhere encountered difficulty in practice as revenue goals often lacked a salient link to individual objectives.

it was readily apparent that Yahoo! had fallen victim to an over-reliance on advertising for its revenues. albeit more slowly. Indications were that Semel believed the business model needed to shift to selling more offerings for which Yahoo! could charge a fee. what would be Sartain’s priorities? Would she be able to duplicate her successes at Southwest? While Sartain oversaw tremendous growth at Southwest. but also promised to take advantage of Yahoo!’s considerable user base (which in fact continued to grow. Headquarters also offered a free coffee bar. and would need to diversify. made available on-site. dry cleaning.Yahoo! A New HR Challenge HR-25A p. But she still had a lot of thinking to do about where Yahoo! HR needed to go. And at Southwest. and about the good work that the current employees were accomplishing. This not only played to Semel’s expertise in traditional media development.” joked one employee. In light of these expected changes. such as financial information or premium video or audio content. the “special sauce” as she referred to it. given HR’s traditionally low profile at Yahoo!. 9 Some of Yahoo!’s benefits reflected its unique culture. Sartain saw internal branding as a key HR strategy. Furthermore. “You could live here. most importantly. during the economic slump) and. Clearly a great deal would depend upon the strategic changes expected from Semel. Foosball tables were a standard at every site. even dental cleaning. its business never required the type of strategic changes facing Yahoo!. While there had not yet been any formal declaration from Semel. the Yahoo! brand.” Would it be possible to leverage Yahoo!’s brand in her HR approach? Indeed. and each location had one or more conveniences. such as haircuts. showers and workout facilities. how prominent a role could Sartain’s group expect to take in Yahoo!’s turnaround? Where would Sartain need to focus her attention to create the greatest long-term impact within Yahoo! HR and across the entire Yahoo! enterprise? . “Where Do We Go From Here?” Sartain was optimistic about what her HR group could accomplish. car washes. Sartain had successfully linked the external brand associated with freedom to a powerful message used internally with employees: “At Southwest Freedom Begins with Me. or preferably a subscription.

10 Exhibit 1 Chart of Yahoo!’s Stock Price Y AHOO . 600 600 400 400 200 200 0 0 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 Source: DAT AST REAM Source: Thompson Financial Datastream .Yahoo! A New HR Challenge HR-25A p.P RICE AND V OLUME 23/4/04 250 250 200 200 150 150 100 100 50 50 0 0 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 MNS. MNS.

” Source: Company Documents .Yahoo! A New HR Challenge HR-25A p. 11 Exhibit 2 Yahoo!’s Mission Statement “To be the most essential global Internet service for consumers and businesses.

Yahoo! Clubs. wireless & phone device delivery of Yahoo! Messenger • Wireless: Online Anywhere acquisition • Global reach: international businesses Source: “Gateways to the Internet: America Online and Yahoo!” Stanford GSB Case. • Commerce: Yahoo! Shopping. • Personalization: My Yahoo!. etc. Auctions. within the hierarchically categorized listings such as News. Calendar. . Yahoo! Wallet. 2000. #EC-24. • Communication and community: Yahoo! Mail. Yahoo! FinanceVision. December. Personals. etc. 12 Exhibit 3 Overview of Yahoo! Products and Services • Content and navigation. etc.Yahoo! A New HR Challenge HR-25A p. Sports. etc. Photos. Store. etc. multimedia: rich media offerings. Address Book. Greetings. Bill Pay • Business and enterprise services: Corporate Yahoo! • Multi-channel. Messenger.