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Episode Transcript

What follows is a conversation with Carol Bartz, the former C.E.O. of Yahoo! and Autodesk, recorded last fall for the Freakonomics Radio series, “The Secret Life of a C.E.O.

Stephen DUBNER: Hey there, it’s Stephen Dubner.

Carol BARTZ: Hello!

DUBNER: Hi Carol, how are you?

BARTZ: I’m fine, Stephen. Thank you.

DUBNER: Nice to meet you. I like your style, I have to say, I didn’t know too much about you before we got into this, but I like your forthrightness and competence.

BARTZ: So, which bad YouTube video of me did you watch?

DUBNER: I didn’t watch that much, but I’m a big fan of people who actually say what they mean, and I know it gets really hard to do in the corporate sphere, obviously in the political sphere too. But no, I just — I like it. You know, before we get started. It strikes me that as a C.E.O. it’s kind of a different ballgame when you are running a company that is public-facing, or maybe better put, a company that the media for whatever reason cares about a lot. Just because, with Yahoo! — let’s say Yahoo! versus Autodesk — every move is magnified, even if the company that the media cares about happens to be much smaller than the other. It’s magnified just because the media cares. Is that observation accurate, or is that not really the case?

BARTZ: No, it’s accurate, but there’s another part to your observation, and that is that when I ran Yahoo!, it was when social media was just starting to gain ground. When I ran Autodesk, we were still waiting for people to send us letters. It wasn’t quite that bad, but there wasn’t any instant feedback on how well or not well we had done. And my first meeting at Yahoo!, I could not believe, looking out and seeing all the little red lights and people recording me — on an internal meeting — and I thought, “Oh, this is going to be really different.”

DUBNER: And let me ask you again, as a piece of that answer — there’s something you said that really interests me. I think most people — or most smart people, at least, I would argue, know that feedback is really important. If you want to improve or do well, it’s hard to do it without good feedback. In a way, social media provides a massive feedback loop, or pool. On the other hand, a lot of it is, A: not well considered, B: necessarily truncated, C: necessarily emotional, and D: maybe not that valuable for you. I’m curious — having been a C.E.O. on both sides of the social media launch — how you tried to sort out the useful feedback in the social media storm from just the noise.

BARTZ: Well, that’s very difficult. And as you said, feedback is extremely important. And normally you look to people that you respect, admire, and you listen to their feedback and you have a chance to comment on their feedback, or at least consider it privately. When you get into the, as you say, “social media storm,” people are commenting that know nothing. I mean, a lot of the comments — which I didn’t go up that often and look at, because you could spend your whole day crying — a lot of the comments were just because I was a woman. “A woman can’t run Yahoo! That’s the problem.” A lot of stuff was just so far off the wall that you can’t spend your time sorting through all the riff raff to figure out where the good comments are. And so, it actually is not helpful. And so, you have to work harder to find real feedback that you should pay attention to and act upon.

DUBNER: All right, so let’s go backwards to the beginning. First of all, let me have you just saying your name and what you do. And in the ‘what you do,’ if you want to include companies you’ve run, great. If not, great. Whatever you want.

BARTZ: I’m Carol Bartz, I’m a retired tech exec.

DUBNER: Give us a little background on your family, your schooling, and your early years in the technology industry.

BARTZ: I actually was very fortunate to get a computer science degree from the University of Wisconsin in 1971. And why I say fortunate is because, first of all, I fell into a world that I just loved, and I could continue in that world for the next 40 years.

DUBNER: Good timing.

BARTZ: I came from a dairy farm in Wisconsin, my mom died when I was 8, so I was very motivated always to do well. The good girl. And then from there, I was fortunate to go right into technical positions — 3M, then Digital Equipment, then Sun Microsystems, then C.E.O. of Autodesk, and then C.E.O. of Yahoo! — and frankly, enjoyed that entire run.

DUBNER: Talk for just a minute about whether in the technology realm or the corporate leadership realm — and we’ll get into this more in detail for sure — but talk for just a minute about how being a woman affected your career, if you can measure that input.

BARTZ: Well, I was both fortunate to be a woman, and unfortunate. And let me tell you why. First of all, it was easier in the beginning, because not many people had computer science degrees. And so, they didn’t care if you were an orangutan. You could get a job, because they didn’t understand what was going on, and they thought maybe you could help them. So, I felt fortunate from that standpoint. Unfortunately though, at that time I walked into the mess of typical bad men that you read about today. Bad actors. But that didn’t matter. I was a tough farm girl, so I didn’t let too much get in the way.

DUBNER: You mean bad in a sexually harassing kind of way?

BARTZ: Oh absolutely. I mean, my first job — well actually my second job, when I was at 3M — the guys that I worked with called me Carl, because they didn’t want their wives to know they were traveling with a female. So, that of course wasn’t harassing me. It was just kind of an indicator of how the world was. And as time went on, and I was able to move up, I was fortunate enough to have some very good mentors and leaders that believed in me. And I was ornery. And so I would speak my mind. In fact, something comes to mind: I was working at a company and I got called in by the H.R. V.P. who said, “Carol, we don’t want you to talk at executive staff anymore.” And I said, “You don’t want me to talk at executive staff? What do you mean you don’t want me to talk?” And they said, “We don’t want you to talk, because we’re sick of hearing what you have to say, because you’re always right.” And I said, “Well, wait a minute.” Because he goes, “Listen, this is it. You don’t talk, or you go.” So, I thought, “Okay, I got it. I don’t talk.” So I went, and I didn’t talk, and I didn’t talk for about three or four meetings, and the C.E.O. finally called me in and said, “How come you’re not saying anything? Because if you don’t say anything, I don’t know what’s going on!” So I’ve gotten mixed messages my whole life. But —

DUBNER: None of those guys ever offered to buy your wisdom — like have you shut up at the meeting, but pay for what you are going to say, so that they could take credit for it? Nobody tried that?

BARTZ: Oh, trust me, many of them took credit for it. It’s one of these things, and it still happens, which is, I’ll say something, and then five minutes later they say the same thing and now it’s like the pope has landed. But these days, I go, “Wait a minute. You know what? I just said that.” Because I’m old and tough enough now that I don’t think that stuff.

DUBNER: All right, name a couple of things about being C.E.O. that you really had no idea about until you became a C.E.O..

BARTZ: Well, I would say the first thing — and people don’t talk about this a lot — but it is a very lonely job. There’s really no one you can talk to about concerns in the company, working for you, unless you’re trying to coach them on something. I’m just talking about how you feel, personally. The board is there, and many times there’s at least one or two board members that are pretty easy to confide in. But for the most part, you know, they show up six times a year. And it’s a little dangerous to talk about today’s problem, because then they never forget it. And so they keep asking, “Well, how is such-and-such doing?” And you’re like, “Oh my god, that was put to bed six months ago! I should never have said anything.” So, the first thing is, it is lonely.

I’d say the second thing is the power that you don’t know you have. So you have to fight what I call “Carol says.” So anywhere in the organization, “We have to do this because Carol says.” Well, Carol didn’t even know about it. And so you get a lot of people speaking on your behalf that have no business doing it, and no dictate to do that. So that’s the second thing that’s strange, and you have to bat down.

The third reason is the enormity of the task. I remember one specific moment at Autodesk. We were trying to put a program into the company called Shared Responsibility, and that meant that we were telling teams that no matter what level you’re at, you have some responsibility to make all this work. You can’t just look up, up, up, up, and finally get to Carol — that you also have a responsibility. And so my H.R. V.P. came in, and I said, “You know, I don’t think Shared Responsibility is working, because now they’re just arguing about it. Nothing seems to be getting done. So I think we have to go back to Command and Control,” the military style. And he looked at me, and he said, “Okay Carol. Now that means you’re going to have to always be right.” And I said, “Oh no. No, that’s not going to work. We’ll try to make shared responsibility work.”

DUBNER: It’s funny, just that idea makes me wonder why the actual notion of the C.E.O. position is not challenged more. Or maybe it is challenged more than I know, but we seem to have accepted — look, we have the the model of the presidency in government, right? There is a person, there is a chief executive. And in corporations there are occasionally cases where you’ve got co-C.E.O.s or whatever, usually in smaller firms it seems. But do you ever think it might be a good idea to take a new look at top leadership of a firm as if you were starting from scratch, and maybe you’d arrive at something other than a chief executive at the top?

BARTZ: I think there has to be one place where the buck stops, not to be too corny. But, there has to be a team. If you are on a board and you find that your chief executive does not have a team that is working effectively — and when I say working effectively, I don’t mean wheel-and-spoke, where you have the C.E.O., and the C.E.O. talks to the V.P. of Engineering, and then the C.E.O. talks to the V.P. of Marketing, and then talks to V.P. — I’m talking about the engineering guy will talk to the V.P. of Marketing without having to go through the C.E.O. So you have a very effective team that knows together they’re running the company. If you don’t have that, and if the C.E.O. believes that they dictate all the shots, then that’s a really bad model. And boards have to watch out for that.

DUBNER: So we’ve interviewed a couple other ex-C.E.O.s like Jack Welch and Ray Dalio, both of whom made the point that speaking really candidly, even bluntly to their employees is not only the best way to do business, but the kindest way to do business; that there’s nothing worse than being lied to or deluded about where you stand. From what I’ve read about you, Carol, I gather you would put yourself in their camp as well, but I’m curious to know how you thought about talking to employees, whether just below you in rank, or all the way down.

BARTZ: I have a reputation, good or bad, that I do speak my mind. I’ve always felt that if people know where you stand, and what you stand for, then they can make a decision about what they think about that, and therefore what they want to do. And I always use this example of a friend says, “Let’s go to lunch,” and I say, “Okay, great. Where do you want to go?” “Oh, I don’t care.” “Okay, let’s go to get Mexican.” “Oh, I had that last night.” “How about Chinese?” “No, I don’t like Chinese.” And you’re sitting there saying, “You just told me you didn’t care!” And so to me that’s the absolute perfect example of obfuscation. I mean, just tell people what you think, and then you have a chance to discuss it. If you don’t know, you might as well talk to the wall.

DUBNER: So you took over as C.E.O. of Yahoo! in 2009. The Great Recession was raging, online ad revenue was plunging, Google had been gobbling up search business. There was a sense that Yahoo!’s glory days were behind it. Also you were replacing Jerry Yang as C.E.O., one of the founders of the company. At the time, how did you weigh the pros and cons of taking over Yahoo!?

BARTZ: Well let’s take them in order. The Great Recession: I have always had this belief that it goes down, then it comes up. Then it goes down, then comes up. You just don’t know the depth, so it’s sort of frequency and length.

DUBNER: So that wasn’t that big a concern for you, per se, the Recession?

BARTZ: No, I felt that it was so bad in ’08, in the Fall, that it certainly was going to last, but that would give me time to sit under the shadow of the Recession to get some things done, and I wouldn’t be criticized because, gee, everybody’s in recession. So I viewed that as a positive. And Jerry actually personally courted me to take this job. I had known Jerry before, and he personally pushed really hard for me to take this job, so I wasn’t worried about Jerry as a founder. The third thing was, it just looked like a fun problem. It really did. It just looked like something that would be very, very interesting.

DUBNER: And when you say “a fun problem,” how would you define the problem?

BARTZ: Well as you already said, ad revenues were stalled, a lot because of the recession. Yahoo! had fallen way behind in search — it’s unfortunate, several reasons, but had fallen way behind in search, and had really lost its confidence, because the Microsoft takeover attempt had just ended when I went in, and the employees were just beaten. Because the company and the board, they were just beaten to the ground. And I really felt that I could help with that, and give us some air time to get back together.

DUBNER: In retrospect, do you feel that it was to any degree, for you, a kind of suicide mission? That there was no way it was going to be fixed to your satisfaction?

BARTZ: Yes, I do now believe that. But it’s for the wrong reason. What I didn’t understand correctly was the influence of Alibaba. And so I didn’t get the time to refresh the technology. Because the one thing Yahoo! unfortunately had a habit of doing was to release products. And so they’re basically the first with a big email presence, messaging, groups, which is an early social media idea, GeoCities, where things are in the world. So they were first in a lot of things. So they were ripe with ideas, they would bring a product to market, and then move on, and never continue to stabilize the product. And so when I got in there, I realized there was just a lot of tech debt, as I called it, that we had to work on. And there would have been time for that. But Alibaba was just such a big presence, hitting us constantly. And that part, I totally missed.

DUBNER: Do you feel that there were signs that you should have anticipated, or could have? Or did the Alibaba feud accelerate without proper warning?

BARTZ: Well the only way that could have been solved is Alibaba wanted us to sell the shares back to them for like less than $10 a share. And you know, we owned 40 percent of the company. And, I mean, I should have been fired if I had done that. And I fought so hard against that, and fought, and fought, and fought directly with the Alibaba management team, that they were going to get me one way or the other.

*      *      *

DUBNER: So let me ask you this: some researchers, academic researchers, talk about this glass cliff phenomenon, that women are more likely to become C.E.O.s when a company is in trouble — for whatever reason it’s in trouble — whereas men are more likely to become C.E.O.s for stable companies. So in this research literature, you, Carol Bartz, are sometimes held up as a classic example of being placed on, and maybe shoved off of, this glass cliff at Yahoo!. What do you make of that characterization?

BARTZ: Well, first of all I would say Autodesk was in trouble when I took over, and I didn’t get shoved off any cliff. Quite the contrary. But listen, it is absolutely true that women have a better chance to get a directorship, or a senior position if there’s trouble. And I think there’s a couple of reasons. It’s mostly because a lot of times men don’t want a job. And so they go for the Tier 1 man on their list, and they take a look and say, “I wouldn’t touch that with anything.” And then they get to the Tier 2 man. And by the time they get to the Tier 2 man, some woman has finally popped up in their mind. And she’s so happy that she has a chance to have a senior position as a director or a C.E.O. that she takes it.

DUBNER: Even if the circumstances are prima facie, suboptimal, yeah?

BARTZ: Yeah, exactly. And I think it’s good that she takes it. I have no problem with that. But it’s not that all of a sudden the boards wake up and say, “Oh, there should be a female here.” They do that sometimes, because it’s easier to hide behind, “Well, of course. Of course that failed, because it was female. What could we have been thinking?” But it’s still a pretty nefarious way of thinking.

DUBNER: One theory is that boards will pick female leadership when a company is in trouble in order to signal to investors that, “Hey, we’re really trying something new and different here.” Do you think that was part of the equation when Yahoo!’s board hired you?

BARTZ: Well, I’d like to think not, but, um, probably. I’d like to think that they hired me because they actually thought I was good.

DUBNER: You’re a different case too, in that your track record running Autodesk was pretty remarkable. And that was known, especially in the tech industry. Less so in the public sphere, just because Autodesk was not such a public facing company. But do you — again, in retrospect is, I guess, the easiest way to think about this — do you think that the board saw you as, “Wow, she is really the person who can turn this around,” or do you think the board saw you more as some kind of combination of, “Well, let’s take the best we can get, considering we’re in trouble,” or, “Let’s signal to the markets that we really know we’ve got to make a change.”

BARTZ: Listen, I believe if they had found what they consider the perfect male, they would have taken the perfect male. There’s no doubt about that. I don’t believe a female is ever hired a C.E.O., especially from the outside, for the reasons that she was the absolute number one pick. I think it’s because their number one picks wouldn’t take the job.

DUBNER: That’s depressing, isn’t it?

BARTZ: Well of course it’s depressing.

DUBNER: I mean, even at this relatively late stage 2017, 2018?

BARTZ: Have you noticed that there’s less females in the Fortune 500 now than there were? I mean, we have made no progress! We have made absolutely no progress.

DUBNER: And why do you think that is?

BARTZ: Because old white men rule. I had this interesting idea, I was so hopeful that my daughter would go to college, and be with open-minded young men, they’d all work together in school, and when they got out, they’d all realize that they were equally smart, and off we’d go and things would change. It’s exactly the opposite. They got out, the guys got these jobs, they got a little money, and they turned into old frat boys in business, as opposed to schools. But I really want you to understand: the young men are groomed by the older men to run the thing. And they’re not predisposed to treat a female as anything more than a female, not a business partner.

DUBNER: Let me ask you this: do you think that sexual harassment is in some ways related to the kind of inability to accept women as leaders, or at least as equals in the corporate world? That there’s something between men and women, whether in a corporate setting or elsewhere, that just prevents men from seeing women as co-equals?

BARTZ: Absolutely. It’s all about power. It’s power. And they have the money, they have the power, and they have the colleagues that will support them.

DUBNER: Where do you think that comes from? Other than, you know, I guess the basic desire for most people, or at least most men, to have more power. Is it like a biological imperative, or do you think it’s just the way that corporate structure has been built and maintained for so many years?

BARTZ: I don’t think it’s biological, I just think it’s historical. If we could just do a quick change of the world and flip it around, I believe women would be abusing. I think power abuses. And that’s what we see. I am flabbergasted, but so delighted that Harvey Weinstein could be brought down in two weeks! I never thought I’d see that in my lifetime. But, I just think when people have the money, position, power, they abuse. And not 100 percent — that’s ridiculous. But much more so than people want to admit.

DUBNER: What is a well-intentioned, fair, equitable-wanting male in the corporate world to do?

BARTZ: Well, first of all, if a female friend of theirs comes and says that something horrible has happened, to  support her and believe her, and not turn his back. And by the way, I want to tell you, there are many males in the corporate world who are superstars. They are defenders of the females. You can pick them out of a crowd, and they will be there for the women. There just aren’t enough of them.

DUBNER: What do you think should change in our systems — whether it’s family systems, or educational, or legal, or corporate — that would improve that, that would increase the number of those people?

BARTZ: Well I think you first, instead of increasing the number of those people, we have to get the bad actors out.

DUBNER: Decrease the other ones.

BARTZ: Yeah, exactly. And then we get the actors that are on the border to say, “Well that obviously didn’t work. I’d better go back and be a nice guy.” But it’s the bad actors, and it’s giving women the confidence that, if they do find somebody to talk to, that they can get help.

DUBNER: Given everything you’re saying, I can’t help but think that you as an observer from the outside must have been particularly chagrined at what’s been happening at Uber in the last couple of years. Not only was there behavior in leadership that gives frat houses a bad name, but then the board came out and said, “We think one way to address this is to really work hard on finding a female C.E.O.” And then, of course, their three finalists were all male. What was your assessment of that scenario?

BARTZ: Well first of all, those are just words, “Let’s find a female C.E.O.” Because, “Oh, wow. That means that’ll all get fixed. All those six years of bad behavior.” So, that was a turnoff to me. I think, personally, they selected a great C.E.O. It looks like he’s going to be very good. And it also looks like he’s not going to let the bad actors hang around. I think they would have waited a long time, too long, to find a female C.E.O. that was senior enough to take that role. And I hate to say that, because I should always say, “Oh, well, obviously a female.” But there wasn’t one in my mind ready to jump into that politically charged, very visible role.

DUBNER: I’m curious, one C.E.O. that we’ve interviewed lately who I think is so impressive on so many levels, and sets a kind of standard — she happens to be female, but I think she sets a standard for a modern C.E.O. — is Indra Nooyi, at PepsiCo. I don’t know if you’ve interacted much with her, but I’m just curious. Look, PepsiCo is one of most valuable companies in the world. She’s been there a long time. She has done a lot of things that the board, and shareholders, and activists initially recoiled at, but she fought hard, and smart, and won. I’m curious, if you’d just comment on whether that is a kind of beacon of female leadership, and whether you think that kind of leadership might have a substantial impact long term on the availability of females for leadership.

BARTZ: Well, absolutely. Any time we can put up someone like her, hold her up as an example of what females can do — and she did things against the, I don’t want to say advice, but against popular opinion, she’s been very strong — the more of those we have, the better we all are. But we’ve got to look at the pipeline. The pipeline, we’re stuck. We’ve been spending this whole time talking about C.E.O.s. Let’s talk about why we can’t get senior vice presidents. That’s the problem. So they’re not likely to be picked over into a different company as a C.E.O. if they’re sitting as the vice president in one company. And they’re not likely to even get to be vice president of that company, so we’re really stuck.

DUBNER: And again, you’ve been in business for a long time and in technology for a long time. How would you compare the status of female leadership and the hopes for more now versus, let’s say, 40 years ago?

BARTZ: Forty years ago? So, 40 years ago I was promoted to be sales manager from the team I was actually working within. One of the guys came in and said, “I’m just going to tell you that I’m not going to work for any plug-compatible boss.” Now, many of you non-technical people don’t know what plug compatible means, but it means you have one end and another end. And I said, “Fine, but I’m not going anywhere.” And he made it very, very clear that he was unhappy, and was going to just sit there and cross his arms and pout. And I said, “George, I don’t care what you do, but you’ve got about three days to get your act together or get out of here.” So I even had a little moxie 40 years ago, I’m not going to go hide in the corner because somebody comes and says, “I don’t like you.”

DUBNER: The glass-cliff researchers have found that if a company led by a woman continues to have trouble, that she’s often replaced by a white male C.E.O., return to the status quo, before the fact.

BARTZ: Oh, gee, what a concept! Did they pay a lot for that research?  

DUBNER: Well, maybe they pay a lot for the name. This is called the Savior Effect. I guess it could have been the Messiah Effect if they wanted to really get their money’s worth. So that happened in your case at Yahoo!, with Scott Thompson but interestingly he had to resign six months later because he fluffed on his C.V., said that he had a computer science degree that he didn’t have?

BARTZ: He said he had a computer science degree. And he did not.

DUBNER: Which interestingly you did have. I assume, right? You want to clarify that? You actually have the degree, you completed it?

BARTZ: I actually have the degree — University of Wisconsin.

DUBNER: But then, interestingly, the next person up then was Marissa Mayer at Yahoo!. Do you feel the dynamics of her appointment were similar to yours, or was the situation so different by then?

BARTZ: It was very different by then, because I had an activist when I came on. I had Carl Icahn. They had an activist when Marissa came on, and they were trying to get some Google magic spread on Facebook, and so she was an excellent candidate. It’s very odd, I agree. You’re not going to find another one of these, where it was a female-male-female. That’s very unusual. History would tell you they wouldn’t find another female for a hundred years because they were so burned. But yes, very unusual. If it’s going to happen anywhere, it’s going to happen in tech.

DUBNER: So let me ask you this: a lot of C.E.O.s — at least from my perspective, but I’m not in the business world, I just follow it like any amateur — but a lot of C.E.O.s seem to want to be as uninteresting and unrevealing, almost as inhuman as possible, at least when they’re speaking in any public or quasi-public setting. This, I should say, does not describe you. You were known, always, for being pretty unvarnished. But talk about those very unrevealing C.E.O.s. Is that strategy? Is it personality, or something else?

BARTZ: I think they have bad advisers. I’ll say three things. They either have that as a basic personality. Two, they’ve been advised to be as benign as possible. Or three, they are scared. And I don’t buy any of that. I think people want to know, again, where you stand, where your company stands, what you stand for, where you’re going. And one of the things that I did in the early conference calls at Yahoo! — which later, of course, I can get criticized for anything — but I just tried to stand up for the people, because they were so beaten down from this botched Microsoft deal that all the analysts wanted to ask me about is why we didn’t do Microsoft. I wasn’t even there. And, “would you have done Microsoft?” And I said, “let’s get back to what we’re doing now, not what happened last year. And give the Yahoo! people some chance to breathe.” And I mean I really went after them. And of course that started our long love affair.

DUBNER: Now if you’d have gone after them, if your very same words in the very same tone happened to have been attached to a male human, how do you think that position — your position of trying to buy that breathing space — would have been received by the analysts?

BARTZ: Oh I think it would have been received great. And I’m positive — I’m not hiding behind any “Oh poor Carol.” I’m just saying, they just don’t like it.

DUBNER: Of all the C.E.O.s who talk sometimes, but say not very much, I think one example — really interesting example, for a lot of different reasons — is Mark Zuckerberg. So, I don’t know if you’ve interacted with him much, but I’m curious what you think of his speaking style. He does speak publicly, more and more, although in circumstances that are atypical for C.E.O.s, and yet it is a different kind of C.E.O. speak than I’ve heard before. I’m curious what your take on it is.

BARTZ: Mark is a extremely smart guy. And so he has chosen to be the C.E.O.-as-intellect. And so, “These are the 12 books I’m going to read this year. I’m going to visit every state this year. I’m going to build a robot this year.” It’s like, well okay, That’s fine. But I think, if you look at what’s happening right now with the testimonies on political ads, that’s going to have to change. And I mean, he didn’t have to. He was a golden boy. He didn’t have to talk about real things. And besides, the company’s doing great. Real things are, you know, real. And so it allowed him to try to get this other persona, which might actually not be good going forward for a while.

DUBNER: Name a couple of current C.E.O.s that you really admire, and why.

BARTZ: I admire Chuck Robbins, at Cisco. We replaced John Chambers, who was a C.E.O. I greatly admired. I hate to say this, because he just died, but Paul Otellini was one of the best men I ever knew, as far as being a friend of females, tough guy, nice guy, and very qualified. And so I’m just going to give him that shout out, even though he’s not with us.

DUBNER: Let me ask you about one in your former orbit. What about Satya Nadella coming into Microsoft, making a mark?

BARTZ: Yes. Absolutely. Brilliant.

DUBNER: And brilliant because why?

BARTZ: Brilliant because he moved fast, he was willing to break glass, he obviously knew what to do, and I think he did the unthinkable. He actually has Microsoft back in the picture. I have a lot of time for him, and he’s a nice guy.

DUBNER: Let me ask you this: one big change that he made consciously, and now that’s being carried out strategically is that Microsoft is back in the partner and collaboration business, which obviously they never were out of. But in the early years they did a lot more of that. And I’m just curious whether trying to be the big dog in any fight — which Microsoft was for a while — if you think that is a more male C.E.O. trait, and the idea of reaching across different aisles, and trying to form different partnerships, and maybe being more collaborative is a trait that is, not necessarily more female — I’m not saying that Satya necessarily has more female traits than the average male — but if that school of thought about success and growth via collaboration and partnership, as opposed to just massive dominance, might be one of the areas in which old school C.E.O.s are bad, and new school C.E.O.s — including potentially female ones — might be better.

BARTZ: I think there’s no doubt about that. You can take it out of the corporate world for a minute, and you can look at school boards, you can look at a lot of places where there’s contention, and it’s the females that are bringing people back together. And the good news is, in a corporation, to accomplish this, it doesn’t have to be, it can’t only be the C.E.O. It has to be the lieutenants. And again, the more lieutenants that are female, the more they will actually really partner. Microsoft always said they would partner, but give it a try and you’d find out that didn’t work, because each group would say, “Fine, I don’t care if that group is partnering with you, but I’m your competition so get outta here.” And nobody could stand it at the top and say, “Make this work. Play.” So I think the more that there’s females involved in either the deals, or resolving the conflicts, that they do work better. I think females are better collaborators.

DUBNER: So three days after you were fired by Yahoo!, you told Fortune magazine that the Yahoo! board were “Dufuses,” and you said that “these people f—-ed me over.” Why? You’re known for being straightforward, but that was a little bit more straightforward than most people were accustomed to. Why’d you go so honest or ballistic at that moment?

BARTZ: Well, I was in a limo driving into New York City when I got a call from Roy Bostock, the chairman of the board, and told me I was fired. I was literally 20 minutes away from where he was physically located. There was another board member in New York that had volunteered to work with Roy, double-team, to tell me I was fired. He didn’t have the nerve to see me face to face. I do not believe that that would have happened to a man. He didn’t have the nerve. Now, I like to think he didn’t have the nerve because he he knew I would probably punched him out.

DUBNER: And was he right?

BARTZ: Might be right. I don’t know. But that board was so beat up by the time I got there — because, again, the Microsoft stuff, and then Carl. Listen, I love Carl Icahn and I bet if you called Carl, he would tell you he likes me. I spent so much time the first seven months on the phone with Carl and his two people he also got on the board — and actually worked that deal for the company. Everything is going swimmingly. We get in a little problem with Alibaba, and they start making a stink, and the board starts getting scared. And they got scared and they didn’t want to be considered the worst board in the world again, and they thought, “Well, we know how to do this. We’ll just fire Carol.” And hey, I’m probably lucky they did. Because I don’t take any of those words back.

DUBNER: Now, I understand — and I’m curious to know if this is true — I understand the interview reportedly cost you about $10 million for having violated a disparagement clause in your contract. Is that true?

BARTZ: You mean that one “f” word was $10 million? I don’t think so.

DUBNER: Did you have to pay back anything from the settlement for having disparaged the board though, publicly?

BARTZ: Oh no, all those little men just ran in the corner.

DUBNER: So it was worth it. If you did have to pay, I gather it was worth it.

BARTZ: Yeah, it all was worth it. Stand by what your words are. Why should I have sugarcoated that, and say, “Oh, I have to go spend some time with my family now, because, you know I was working the whole time my daughter was growing up, but now she’s out of college, so I really need to spend some time with her.”

DUBNER: Carol Bartz this was a blast. And I can’t thank you enough, and I wish you the best in everything.

BARTZ: Well thank you. It was fun. We’ll see if any of it gets on the radio.

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Freakonomics Radio is produced by WNYC Studios and Dubner Productions. Our staff includes Alison HockenberryMerritt JacobGreg RosalskyStephanie Tam, Max Miller, Harry Huggins, and Brian Gutierrez. For this series, the sound design is by David Herman, with help from Dan Dzula. The music throughout the episode was composed by Luis Guerra. You can subscribe to Freakonomics Radio on Apple Podcasts, or wherever you get your podcasts. You can also find us on TwitterFacebook, or via email at

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