Yahoo Director Hart falls on own sword over CEO’s bogus degree

By Michael Liedtke, AP

SAN FRANCISCO–The flap over a bogus college degree on Yahoo CEO Scott Thompson’s official biography has claimed its first casualty — the director who led the committee that hired him four months ago.

Patti Hart will surrender her Yahoo board seat at the company’s still-unscheduled annual meeting. She framed her decision as a commitment to focus on her job as CEO of gambling-machine maker International Game Technology, while allowing Yahoo’s board to deal with the fallout from the recent revelations about Thompson’s inaccurate academic credentials. “It has been my privilege to serve Yahoo stockholders and I remain confident in the company’s future,” Hart said in a statement distributed Tuesday by IGT. Yahoo Inc. thanked Hart for serving on its board since June 2010 and wished her luck. Pleasantries aside, Yahoo’s own board probably wanted Hart to leave down, said Gene Grabowski, an executive vice president at Levick Strategic Communications, which works with companies facing crises.

“In a crisis, sometimes there are circumstances where you have to make a sacrifice to the gods. This appears to be one of them,” Grabowski said of Hart’s departure from the board.

Hart, 56, becomes the sixth Yahoo director to depart the board since the company hired Thompson to engineer a turnaround. The exodus will leave Yahoo with nine directors.

IGT Chairman Philip Satre said IGT’s board urged Hart to leave Yahoo in order for her to avoid being distracted.

The turmoil swirling around Yahoo is likely to escalate. A dissident shareholder who is seeking to shake up the board even more is demanding access to internal records about Thompson’s hiring. And Yahoo’s board is conducting its own investigation into why no one flagged an inaccuracy that has been appearing in Thompson’s bio for years.

At various times, published summaries of Thompson’s academic background have included a computer science degree from Stonehill College that he never received. Thompson graduated from Stonehill, a Catholic school near Boston, in 1979 with a bachelor’s in accounting, an accomplishment that Yahoo correctly listed in his bio.

Those earlier inaccuracies have raised questions about whether Thompson deliberately allowed the misinformation to perpetuate and why Hart didn’t insist on a more thorough background check before Yahoo hired him.

After Thompson joined Yahoo, the non-existent degree appeared on his bio on Yahoo’s website and in documents filed April 27 with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

“It’s pretty clear that there was information that slipped through Yahoo’s fingertips and someone has to be held accountable,” said Gayle Mattson, an executive vice president for executive search firm DHR International.