Carol Bartz And Her Positive Legacy of Corporate Swearing

The Women's Conference
Carol Bartz, president and chief executive officer of Yahoo! Inc.
"These people f---ed me over," Carol Bartz said after being fired as CEO of Yahoo!, according to an exit interview with Fortune.

Bartz's departure from the Internet's third most visited website in the U.S. - after Google and Facebook - came about after a two-year stint as Yahoo! CEO.Her dismissal received plenty of press for its harsh nature. As Fortune recounts, Bartz was notified of her firing over the telephone.

"I said, 'Roy, I think that's a script,'" she told Fortune's Patricia Sellars, adding, "'Why don't you have the balls to tell me yourself?'" [Bartz was referring to Yahoo! Chairman Roy Bostock.] In a display of one-upmanship in the realm digital frigidity, Bartz wrote her swan song to the staff.

"To all,

I am very sad to tell you that I've just been fired over the phone by Yahoo's Chairman of the Board. It has been my pleasure to work with all of you and I wish you only the best going forward.


The message, as reported by TechCrunch, was rounded out with the signature, "Sent from iPad."

When Bartz took over from Yahoo! founder Jerry Yang, analysts were dubious she, or anyone, could turn around the fortunes of the slumbering giant. "With Google and social networks continuing to steal away audiences, and with talent streaming out the doors, it's not yet clear if Bartz can turn Yahoo around no matter how good she may be," Rob Hof, of the magazine then known as Businessweek.

Bartz proved to be a tough manager, cutting five percent of Yahoo!'s workforce. According to a Bloomberg report, she gave herself a B minus for her performance one year in, saying, "It was a little tougher internally than I think I had anticipated."

All throughout her tenure, Bartz earned plaudits for trying to lead a 16-year old company in an industry so young it sees its landscape remade every half year. And among the reasons she was so praised was her consistently forthright and honest manner, as evidenced by her f-bomb.

On the heels of her high-profile exit, Business Insider even pointed out that cursing may have helped Bartz's standing at the internet services company. Citing a 2005 study produced out of Northern Illinois University, 88 students were asked to evaluate a five-minute presentation on on tuition costs. The students were shown two videos, one laced with profanity about the need to lower tuition costs, the other a more child-friendly version of the same argument.

"Swearing had a significant effect on participants' attitudes about lowering tuition, ... Follow-up contrasts showed that the speeches with the swear word at the beginning or end were significantly more persuasive than the control speech," concluded the paper, entitled, "Indecent influence: The positive effects of obscenity on persuasion."

That same year saw a dustup on the letters page of the Financial Times over the use of a profanity. Columnist Sathnam Sanghera was lambasted for having dropped an f-bomb in an article. On August 11, he responded, in a column entitled, "I swear we all use 'bad words.'"

He summed up his defense: "While we continue to avoid egregious swearing, curse words are considered tolerable if they make a point. In this case "the bad word" appeared once in a quote from a boxing trainer and illustrated, I would argue, his aggression. Frankly, the only thing I find shocking is that an adult living in the west in the 21st century could possibly be shocked."
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