Yahoo names Chapple, Biondi to board, but what happens next?

New Yahoo board member Frank Biondi has a knack for being at the center of a firestorm. So the fact that Carl Icahn successfully got Biondi on board this morning, probably means a new storm is on the horizon.

There are now three of Icahn Partners' ranks serving as members of the Board of Directors of Yahoo. Carl Icahn himself will assume the seat vacated by outgoing member Robert Kotick, and former Viacom and Universal chief Frank Biondi and former Nextel founder John Chapple will add to the board's membership. Yahoo made the news official this morning.

But will their contributions be meaningful to the company, beyond the obvious lighting of a candle for possible, future, maybe would-be partner Microsoft? Let's take a look at the goings-on at other companies to which these gentlemen have contributed their advice and direction, since the days they joined.


Frank Biondi joined the board of directors of biotechnology company Amgen in 2002. Its major products include cancer-fighting drugs, and one of its current rivals in the colon cancer drug field is ImClone -- a familiar sounding name to anyone who followed the Martha Stewart scandal in 2003. Yes, that's the company that was at the center of an insider trading scandal. Carl Icahn holds a 14% stake in ImClone; and over the past few months, rumors have crept up once again that Icahn is interested in brokering a merger deal. Those rumors have been fueled by recent news that pharmaceutical giant Bristol Myers Squibb is also interested in ImClone.

Prior to Motorola's decision to divide its assets, Icahn was instrumental in setting up an alternate proxy slate of directors who would help give him a stronger say in changing the direction of that company, and was ready to sue Motorola to make it happen. Among the four directors Icahn planned to nominate was Frank Biondi.

Back in 2003, cable provider Cablevision launched (literally) an ambitious effort to vault itself into a competitive position against Dish Network and DirecTV in the satellite services business. It orbited its own private satellite, and named the service Voom.

"Foom" might have been more appropriate. Although Cablevision always had plans to launch Voom as a majority-owned spinoff, the fact that it never attracted many customers meant it never really got the fuel to ignite its second stage. The ongoing failure, for a time, pitted that company's existing board of directors in direct combat with their own chief executives -- Charles Dolan and his son Tom -- over an agreement that would have enabled the Dolans to purchase Voom from their own company and spin it off themselves.

With the board in shambles and Voom a catastrophe, the Dolans recruited an entirely new board of directors. Leading its ranks were Liberty Media chief John Malone, and Frank Biondi.

Since that time, Cablevision made an odd decision to enter the struggling newspaper business, outbidding News Corp. and others for the New York tabloid daily Newsday. With that paper faring no better than its counterparts in recent days, shareholders are scratching their heads. In one of the more unusual responses a company in Cablevision's position has taken of late, it launched what is being called a "listening tour," holding informal meetings around the country with major stockholders in an attempt to get their opinions as to what the company should do now.

Of course, Biondi's reputation with deal-making precedes his involvement as a director on public companies' boards, as the man who beat Barry Diller in the deal that merged Paramount with Viacom in 1994.

If Biondi's involvement with companies, with or without Icahn, has been about putting things together and taking them apart again, Chapple has been more about making quiet decisions and making things work. He actually hasn't appeared all that interested in being a smaller part of a bigger organization; when his McCaw Cellular and his Nextel were acquired by AT&T and Sprint, respectively, he didn't hang around for very long afterward.

Chapple seems more comfortable with first-stage investments; for instance, he's currently a director with a Scottsdale-based firm called Telesphere Networks. It received another $10 million in private equity funding just last June, and its key product involves VoIP trunking -- a way to integrate SIP-based voice-over-IP into existing enterprise PBX systems.

So while Icahn's strategy with Yahoo does appear to involve making a merger deal happen, with Microsoft or with somebody -- otherwise, why bring in Biondi? -- there may also be a serious interest in righting the ship, assuming one agrees with Icahn that it's off-course. Though Chapple is also known to be a Microsoft favorite, he is a genuine advisor who has a track record of providing direction and guidance, though mainly with smaller startups these days.

What we can assume at this point is that the chess pieces are in position for the next stage of the big game with Yahoo. What we don't know for certain is the identity or strategy of the player on the opposite side of the table.

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