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

We’re trying to promote the brand and build the product so that it has reliability. there we were in our trailer watching it on our computers every day. it never really ended up being a big deal. Inside Yahoo. he and Filo had had the opportunity to see the fledgling Web grow right before their eyes. pizzazz. 2002. and credibility. December.”11 Moritz was also responsible for bringing in Tim “TK” Koogle. According to Yang.Yahoo! A New HR Challenge HR-25A p. we’re brand.”15 Service platform strategy: A variety of services shared the Yahoo! brand although the functionality was sometimes obtained through partnerships.13 (See Exhibit 2 for Yahoo!’s mission statement. Branding concerns predominated business dealings — including partnership activities — even more than revenues.”8 As Yang recalled. 10 Ibid. The Stanford Channel. a 9-year veteran of Motorola. 43-44. 1997. 8 Yahoo! Dave and Jerry’s Excellent Venture.. pp. Inc. “Surprising to us. “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. to run the company in August 1995. 13 “Gateways to the Internet: America Online and Yahoo!” Stanford GSB Case. Dot. fit was recognized as a critical part of Yahoo!’s organizational priorities. internal development and acquisitions. “It was amazing. p. “When looking for a CEO our biggest concern was just finding someone who would fit in.con—The Greatest Story Ever Sold. 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. . 91. John Wiley & Sons.) Product strategy: Yahoo! focused on user experience as opposed to raw performance and total number of pages indexed.14 Branding strategy: Yahoo! exhibited a very early preoccupation with marketing its brand. 15 Karen Angel.”10 Filo observed. 12 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. “Primarily. 14 John Cassidy. probably a couple thousand people a day. 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. 9 Ibid. 3 site was unexpected. 2000. Ibid. launching a 1996 campaign with the “Do You Yahoo!?” tagline and spending heavily on TV commercials to reach the mass market. Recalled Filo. 11 Ibid. HarperCollins. Yang recalled. “As it turned out.” Yang proclaimed. you sort of hear about things going through exponential growth. (video program). From the very beginning. #EC-24. Recalled Yang. “We really wanted to keep the service free — that was a fundamental goal. 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.

Experimentation was highly encouraged and products were often given an initial “soft launch” (i. Yahoo! had grown into a total of 44 distinct business groups and sub-groups. Marketing and sales encompassed three functions: corporate marketing. Surfers not only classified new sites. sold the advertising inventory on Yahoo!’s 1 billion plus page-views per day. to scrap it entirely. In keeping with the strong cultural identity held by engineering. The developing organization reflected the personalities and values of founders Yang and Filo. In the early days.S. The international group included the increasing number of offices outside the U. People naturally spoke about Yahoo!’s product as consisting of “properties. Sales people. and formal mechanisms linking functions remained rare. was an extremely bright Stanford alumna whom Yang and Filo got to know during their graduate school experience. Many of Yahoo!’s corporate marketers came not from Internet-related backgrounds. launched in April 1996. Yahoo! products and services were broadly categorized within property development.” Property development or production was one of three main groups into which the company was divided. The leadership team consisted of people trusted by the founders who bonded during the start-up phase or. spanned the entire organization. 4 Independence: Yahoo! prided itself on being open and independent. sales. and surfing functions. Business development led Yahoo!’s partnership and acquisition activities. 1999. New automated search technologies played an increasingly important role in Yahoo!’s search solution. such as Procter and Gamble. reflecting the founding principles of the Web. engineering. (See Exhibit 3 for an overview of Yahoo! products and services. Organizational Structure From the beginning. and business development. but they also alerted producers when they spotted a relevant site.] . The corporate marketing staff was responsible for developing the Yahoo! brand name among the Web-surfing and general public. the producer and the developer who did the actual coding were often one and the same. but from traditional consumer packaged-goods companies.. July 10. Property development consisted of the production. From Yahoo!’s earliest days. note: Entire paragraph derived from HBS case text. The product specification might come from the company founders or the developers themselves. the first being Yahoo! Japan. the engineers remained a separate group. 16 “Yahoo: Business on Internet Time.Yahoo! A New HR Challenge HR-25A p. in some cases. Srinija Srinivasan. ‘Producers’ were responsible for Yahoo!’s properties and services. both internal and external. in some cases.) By the time of Sartain’s arrival. early backers and the leadership team saw Yahoo! as a media company rather than merely a Web search directory. A technology group. Yahoo!’s independence drew increasing attention during the high profile mergers in 1998 and 1999 involving Excite and AtHome cable. and were “leased” out to the different product areas. the company relied heavily on internal social networks. [Ed. along with marketing and sales and international. A network services team was specifically responsible for the suite of products that supported or were integrated into the other product areas. consisting primarily of engineers.e. Members of the surfing department combed through new Web sites and updated the directories in Yahoo! Search. and Disney and InfoSeek. Over time. even earlier. made available to a limited audience) which allowed user feedback to be obtained either to improve the product or.” such as Travel or E-mail.” Harvard Business School Case. developed by “producers. Yahoo! employee #3. AOL and Netscape.510 in spring of 2001.16 Yahoo! grew from 25 employees at its IPO in 1996 to 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.” recalled Srinivasan. You just stopped being surprised by it. May 5.” and remained one of the company’s most highly regarded managers.m. “Didn’t matter if it was 2 p.’” recalled recruiter Perluss. on Jan. the company’s market cap was $128 billion. and management missteps derailed one of the hottest companies on the Web. Heather Green. were hard to miss once you walked in the building. 2002. tales of employees “sleeping under their cubes” after an all-nighter on the job were not uncommon. a place where people didn’t take themselves too seriously. “At its peak.22 Training and leadership skills were largely developed on-the-job. Linda Himelstein.” Business Week. most notably within the engineering group where business cards said simply “engineer. which presented their own HR complications. you just kind of knew that they were going to be there. Yahoo!’s founders expressed their irreverent attitude in the meaning they attributed to the company name— “Yet Another Highly Officious Oracle.”21 “Up until the layoff my marching orders here were.. [1998] 19 Karen Angel. 20 Ben Elgin. Entrepreneurial. a total of four in 1998 and five in 1999. 22 Interview with Ken Perluss. 2001. “I never worked as hard in my life as I did for four years at Yahoo!.cit. (Inside Yahoo. Yahoo! built capabilities through acquisitions. 3. The pace of business had left minimal time to establish the systems and processes suitable for a larger. 5 Srinivasan had come aboard to organize and manage the “surfers. despite being in the position of not having to work another day in his life if he chose. so pervasive in the day-to-day activities of the company. more than twice that of media giant Walt Disney Co. or 2 a. Ronald Grover. Filo himself was known for 24-plus hour marathon coding sessions.” summed up one employee. While the 17 Interview with Ken Perluss.”17 Hard work. Yahoo! Culture Yahoo! had always been considered a fun place to work. 2003. Inc.Yahoo! A New HR Challenge HR-25A p. 2003. More conventional job titles were common elsewhere in the company as a result of growth and the desire to simplify relations with business partners. Yahoo!’s strong culture. ‘Keep hiring until we tell you to stop. try it.” (One of the first CEO candidates reportedly had vowed to change the company name and predictably did not get the job.. long-time technical recruiter at Yahoo! and veteran of Silicon Graphics described it. more complex organization. 2003. a fast pace.19 The colors purple and yellow were also part of the Yahoo! culture and. 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. May 5. 21 Interview with Pranesh Anthapur. infighting. “We’d try anything.m. consistent with the rest of the culture. p. 18 Yahoo! Dave and Jerry’s Excellent Venture. innovative behavior was the norm. “Inside Yahoo! The untold story of how arrogance. and if you had a great idea and it seemed like it might be cool.” regardless of seniority. in keeping with the habits established by Yang and Filo in their trailer days at Stanford.18 At Yahoo!. 2000. As Ken Perluss.”20 “The company as a whole was… growing in leaps and bounds. . and long hours persisted at Yahoo!. May 21. created extra challenges in the integration process. Hierarchical job titles had traditionally been frowned upon. (video program). John Wiley & Sons. 86.) op. Stanford Communications.

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

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

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

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

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. MNS.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. 10 Exhibit 1 Chart of Yahoo!’s Stock Price Y AHOO .

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

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