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

13 “Gateways to the Internet: America Online and Yahoo!” Stanford GSB Case. internal development and acquisitions. 91. Yang recalled.”10 Filo observed. Recalled Yang. probably a couple thousand people a day. pp. John Wiley & Sons.. “Surprising to us. 10 Ibid. 11 Ibid. 8 Yahoo! Dave and Jerry’s Excellent Venture. (video program).”11 Moritz was also responsible for bringing in Tim “TK” Koogle.”8 As Yang recalled. “We really wanted to keep the service free — that was a fundamental goal. Recalled Filo. “It was amazing. he and Filo had had the opportunity to see the fledgling Web grow right before their eyes. 12 Ibid. 1997.”15 Service platform strategy: A variety of services shared the Yahoo! brand although the functionality was sometimes obtained through partnerships. 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. pizzazz. to run the company in August 1995. From the very beginning. . HarperCollins. it never really ended up being a big deal. “Primarily. 3 site was unexpected. “When looking for a CEO our biggest concern was just finding someone who would fit in.14 Branding strategy: Yahoo! exhibited a very early preoccupation with marketing its brand. Inc. Branding concerns predominated business dealings — including partnership activities — even more than revenues. 9 Ibid. The Stanford Channel. 14 John Cassidy. we’re brand. a 9-year veteran of Motorola. there we were in our trailer watching it on our computers every day.con—The Greatest Story Ever Sold. #EC-24. 43-44.13 (See Exhibit 2 for Yahoo!’s mission statement. “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. Ibid. 2002. Inside Yahoo. 2000. December. 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. Dot. fit was recognized as a critical part of Yahoo!’s organizational priorities. 15 Karen Angel. We’re trying to promote the brand and build the product so that it has reliability. launching a 1996 campaign with the “Do You Yahoo!?” tagline and spending heavily on TV commercials to reach the mass market. and credibility. According to Yang. you sort of hear about things going through exponential growth.Yahoo! A New HR Challenge HR-25A p. “As it turned out. p. 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. 2002.”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.) Product strategy: Yahoo! focused on user experience as opposed to raw performance and total number of pages indexed.” Yang proclaimed.

S. but from traditional consumer packaged-goods companies. [Ed. New automated search technologies played an increasingly important role in Yahoo!’s search solution. the company relied heavily on internal social networks. Business development led Yahoo!’s partnership and acquisition activities. A technology group. was an extremely bright Stanford alumna whom Yang and Filo got to know during their graduate school experience. The international group included the increasing number of offices outside the U.. Members of the surfing department combed through new Web sites and updated the directories in Yahoo! Search. July 10. Yahoo! employee #3. From Yahoo!’s earliest days. 16 “Yahoo: Business on Internet Time. Sales people. Experimentation was highly encouraged and products were often given an initial “soft launch” (i. Marketing and sales encompassed three functions: corporate marketing. The leadership team consisted of people trusted by the founders who bonded during the start-up phase or. Organizational Structure From the beginning. AOL and Netscape. spanned the entire organization. 4 Independence: Yahoo! prided itself on being open and independent. and surfing functions. and business development. Yahoo! had grown into a total of 44 distinct business groups and sub-groups. along with marketing and sales and international. but they also alerted producers when they spotted a relevant site. to scrap it entirely.” such as Travel or E-mail. People naturally spoke about Yahoo!’s product as consisting of “properties. such as Procter and Gamble. the producer and the developer who did the actual coding were often one and the same.” Property development or production was one of three main groups into which the company was divided. Property development consisted of the production. Surfers not only classified new sites. sales. launched in April 1996. In the early days. in some cases.Yahoo! A New HR Challenge HR-25A p.510 in spring of 2001. and formal mechanisms linking functions remained rare. and Disney and InfoSeek. ‘Producers’ were responsible for Yahoo!’s properties and services. consisting primarily of engineers. the engineers remained a separate group. note: Entire paragraph derived from HBS case text. engineering. both internal and external. The developing organization reflected the personalities and values of founders Yang and Filo. Over time.) By the time of Sartain’s arrival. (See Exhibit 3 for an overview of Yahoo! products and services. the first being Yahoo! Japan. even earlier. A network services team was specifically responsible for the suite of products that supported or were integrated into the other product areas. and were “leased” out to the different product areas. sold the advertising inventory on Yahoo!’s 1 billion plus page-views per day. in some cases. made available to a limited audience) which allowed user feedback to be obtained either to improve the product or. The corporate marketing staff was responsible for developing the Yahoo! brand name among the Web-surfing and general public. In keeping with the strong cultural identity held by engineering.16 Yahoo! grew from 25 employees at its IPO in 1996 to 3. Many of Yahoo!’s corporate marketers came not from Internet-related backgrounds. Yahoo!’s independence drew increasing attention during the high profile mergers in 1998 and 1999 involving Excite and AtHome cable. early backers and the leadership team saw Yahoo! as a media company rather than merely a Web search directory.] . developed by “producers. The product specification might come from the company founders or the developers themselves.” Harvard Business School Case. 1999. Yahoo! products and services were broadly categorized within property development. reflecting the founding principles of the Web.e. Srinija Srinivasan.

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

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

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

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

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

Yahoo! A New HR Challenge HR-25A p. 600 600 400 400 200 200 0 0 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 Source: DAT AST REAM Source: Thompson Financial Datastream . 10 Exhibit 1 Chart of Yahoo!’s Stock Price Y AHOO .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 . 11 Exhibit 2 Yahoo!’s Mission Statement “To be the most essential global Internet service for consumers and businesses.Yahoo! A New HR Challenge HR-25A p.

Calendar. Yahoo! FinanceVision. Bill Pay • Business and enterprise services: Corporate Yahoo! • Multi-channel. etc. 12 Exhibit 3 Overview of Yahoo! Products and Services • Content and navigation. etc. Yahoo! Clubs. Photos. December. 2000. Sports. etc. Yahoo! Wallet. Greetings. within the hierarchically categorized listings such as News. Personals. • Personalization: My Yahoo!. • Commerce: Yahoo! Shopping. • Communication and community: Yahoo! Mail.Yahoo! A New HR Challenge HR-25A p. #EC-24. Address Book. etc. Store. multimedia: rich media offerings. . 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. etc. Auctions. Messenger.