Jim Lanzone 98JD/MBA currently serves as CEO of internet giant Yahoo with over 25 years of leadership and entrepreneurial experience in the tech and media industry. Before joining Yahoo, he was the CEO of Tinder. He landed the role at the infamous dating app after nearly a decade as president and CEO of CBS Interactive, a top 10 global internet company with brands ranging from CBS All Access (now Paramount+) to CBS Sports HQ. Lanzone was named the first Chief Digital Officer in the history of the CBS corporation. Despite all his accolades, though, he is more at home in a pair of sneakers than a suit and tie.

Lanzone joined John H. Harland Dean of Goizueta Business School Gareth James earlier this month for a sit-down discussion as part of Learning & Leading: Goizueta’s Distinguished Speaker Series. Dean James poked fun at Lanzone’s “New York Formal” look. But his casual appearance didn’t stop him from captivating a room (and two overflow rooms) full of students, faculty, and staff with the story of his unconventional career path.

Lanzone’s work experience started with an internship with Information America. The company shared public records with lawyers and businesses via dial-up. He had no credentials other than, “I use the internet a lot,” he said with a laugh. Lanzone started from square one, learning how to build a website. The experience would later help him launch a start-up with two classmates at Goizueta.

He and his classmates started a company called eTour, a provider of information and cost-per-lead services. The company was eventually acquired by Ask Jeeves. With that purchase, Lanzone became the product manager and eventually the senior vice president and general manager of Ask.com.

The Road to Yahoo

Lanzone went on to serve as CEO of both CBS Interactive and Tinder. Having been a part of many turnarounds in his career, however, Yahoo just seemed to be in the cards for him.

“I always had my eye on Yahoo. Pretty much from the minute they flicked the lights on for Google to be the search engine on Yahoo, which happened in June of 2000.” The company spent the next 17 years “trying to figure out… what its purpose was, how could it survive. It was a hard time,” Lanzone said.

But his path to Yahoo was an unusual trajectory. “I didn’t plan out anything I did in my career,” he said. “Really, as I’ve gone along, I’ve just jumped from thing to thing along the way. But what ended up happening is, for 25 years, I’ve worked solely in consumer internet companies. I was a part of the search wars, the streaming wars… and at Yahoo there’s almost no division of what we do that I haven’t already run before.”

By the time Lanzone became CEO, Yahoo had been through a lot. “To me, this was the best possible turnaround that had amazing bones to work with,” he said. Despite its highs and notable lows over the years, Yahoo still competes with the best. It has been a top-five Internet property every month since its inception 29 years ago. “We’re No.1 in finance, No. 2 in sports, No.1 in news, this is by total traffic, No. 2 in email… [and] we’re still No. 3 in search, believe it or not,” Lanzone said. Yahoo now boasts hundreds of millions of viewers every month. So, it’s hard to believe Verizon purchased Yahoo for only $5 billion in 2021 shortly before Lanzone became CEO. 

Moving Yahoo Forward

Having been a part of company turnarounds before, Lanzone knew what the blueprint looked like. “It was almost exactly what I expected but at a different scale,” he said. Restructuring, parting ways with a lot of people, and bringing in a new team while trying to promote from within paved the way for Yahoo.

The most important thing any of us can do as managers… is hire well. For this company, that meant bringing in people who were product leaders first to run every division… If you have that, they will adjust to the changing landscape.

Jim Lanzone 98JD/MBA

While some still think of Yahoo as a relic web guide from the 90s, Lanzone sees the Yahoo of 2024 as something else entirely. “Today, it’s about goal achievement. You come here when you need to get something done,” he posited. “Having a single pane of glass that is personalized to you… You don’t even have to know what Yahoo used to be to know how useful that is.” He went on to add, “[We will] be that trusted guide to help you achieve your goals, no matter how big or small… We can just focus on doing that really, really well and know that we don’t have to be the trillion-dollar company to win big here.”

Dean James concluded his interview by asking Lanzone to advise his 22-year-old self. The Yahoo CEO shared “I don’t know [if] I could have done it any other way.” The one thing he seemed most sure about was his gap year in Barcelona, but he spoke highly of his time getting a JD/MBA. “Coming here… it was like seeing in color… everything made sense,” he shared.

Throughout the talk, Lanzone urged students to follow their passion. He encouraged them to try a startup rather than seeking a more traditional employment opportunity. He gave the same advice to his son who found he was much happier than his peers who took more conventional routes. The key takeaway from Lanzone’s career seems to be that if you follow your passions, the path will make itself clear. You don’t have to have everything set in stone when you’re fresh out of undergrad.

Watch Lazone’s fireside chat with Dean James here.

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