Yahoo CEO Scott Thompson is learning a valuable lesson right now and it would strongly benefit all holders of executive jobs to pay attention.
Last Thursday, one of Yahoo's investors, a hedge fund called Third Point LLC, revealed that the Yahoo CEO only had a bachelor's degree in accounting, not the dual degree in accounting and computer science that was listed in various biographies of Thompson and on documents filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).
Third Point CEO Daniel Loeb sent a letter to Yahoo's board of directors demanding that either an explanation be offered or Thompson be terminated. The letter also took aim at board member Patti Hart, both for her role in hiring Thompson and for an academic indiscretion of her own. Hart was listed as having a bachelor's degree in marketing and economics, but her degree was really in business administration.
The letter concluded with a thinly veiled threat to the board of directors that events would heat up at the next shareholders' meeting unless action was taken immediately.
On Monday, Thompson issued a statement that avoided directly acknowledging whether or not he had personally fabricated a computer science degree, but admitted that he was aware the incident had set back the company's efforts to move forward.
"For that, I take full responsibility, and I want to apologize," said Thompson.
The vagary of Thompson's statement and the days of total silence that preceded it are both seen as extremely troubling by already-skeptical investors, as well as reporters covering the story.
It is unclear exactly how events will play out, but one thing is certain: the entire episode highlights the benefits of working with executive recruiters. Full-time executive search professionals are dedicated to finding the best candidates and cannot afford to risk their reputation on a poorly vetted and potentially dishonest job-seeker. When looking to hire professional executives, it makes sense to work with professional recruiters.