Tech Insurgents 2012: Daniel Loeb

Founder, Third Point LLC

The Poison Pen

Six months ago, Yahoo was a tech dinosaur, a moribund dot-com bypassed by the evolution of the social web and seemingly oblivious to mobile platforms. Kara Swisher had all but written the company’s epitaph when Yahoo made a headline-grabbing hire: Marissa Mayer, an early Google employee who had played a key role in such varied projects as the design of Google’s iconic landing page and the development of Google Maps and Gmail.

The new boss quickly garnered praise, first by staking a claim for the importance of mobile (even requiring employees to ditch their BlackBerrys for iPhones), and then for recruiting splashy new talent. The stock price rose, and media outlets followed with glowing profiles of the woman whose presence alone was enough to make Yahoo seem like a tech company again, rather than just a sliding stock symbol.

If shareholders were looking for someone to thank for bringing YHOO into 2012, they could have sent cigars to the offices of Daniel Loeb, the founder of hedge fund Third Point LLC, whose belief in Yahoo’s brighter future was the catalyst for hiring Ms. Mayer.

Last September, Mr. Loeb disclosed a billion-dollar stake in the company, then mocked its “crappy interface” and “stupid logo,” and said Yahoo “had one of the most horrendous management teams” he’d ever seen. That was just the start. Activist investors have long wielded poison pens in their attempts to influence companies, but Mr. Loeb—a tech-savvy investor who built his reputation shorting the tech bubble and who now operates a small VC fund as part of his portfolio—may be the first to launch a poison blog. (Our favorite post: a timeline graphic linking Yahoo’s falling share price to embarrassing moments in the company’s recent history. Botched Microsoft deal, anyone?) Then there was the scoop that turned tech journalists green with envy. After some internet sleuthing, Mr. Loeb revealed that then-CEO Scott Thompson had added a fictitious computer science degree to his résumé, and used the inaccuracy to force Mr. Thompson to step down.

When the dust settled, Mr. Loeb had won control of three seats on Yahoo’s board and helped land Ms. Mayer. He took after his star CEO and decreed that all Third Point employees would ditch their BlackBerrys for iPhones, then used his position on the Yahoo board to help settle a lawsuit with Facebook. In September, Yahoo sold part of its stake the Chinese internet company Alibaba, a deal that’s expected to net shareholders $3.65 billion in buybacks and dividends. “I am aligned with management and my fellow board members to drive shareholder value,” Mr. Loeb told The Observer. So modest.

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