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Yahoo's Marissa Mayer Says Executive Departures Were 'Careful Planning' (I Beg to Differ!)

In fact, it's not so at all.

At the top of its third-quarter earnings call today, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer quickly addressed worries about a brain drain at the Silicon Valley Internet giant.

“The changes in the Yahoo leadership team are the result of careful planning to achieve the necessary skills, passion and ability to execute growth,” she said. “Our hiring process continues to be rigorous and primarily focused on the talent that will help us drive user engagement and revenue growth.”

What’s most interesting is that Mayer wanted to make sure that Wall Street thinks she is in full control of the significant departure of key execs over the last six months from Yahoo.

She then added to that, calling the team she has now “unequivocally the strongest” she has had since she got to Yahoo several years ago, thereby dissing the many people who have recently left the company for points elsewhere. (Mostly people she selected, by the way.)

As I outlined earlier this week, that is a lot of execs of late, some of them her top staffers, including Mike Kerns (moved to Peter Chernin’s company), Kathy Savitt (STX Entertainment), Dawn Airey (Getty Images), Jackie Reses (Square) and many, many more.

While there have been a lot of good hires to be sure, most of this departing is not planned, according to what is now a flood of sources at Yahoo in recent days are telling me.

As I noted:

While Silicon Valley is a place where talent moves regularly among the many tech companies, one source inside Yahoo called the situation “troubling”; another worried about the ability of managers to stanch the flow of valued employees.

Sources inside the company said CEO Marissa Mayer is attempting to put a good spin on the situation, as well as trying to stop leaking to the media about the issue. At recent companywide meetings, for example, she has put up photos of purple kittens — Yahoo’s famous color — to indicate a successful period of no leaks about the company’s internal issues including staff departures.

The cute kitten ploy aside, sources said the falling stock and a feeling that a number of recent and very high-priced initiatives under Mayer — see the $42 million write-down on media buys like “Community” and $119 million in costs from the search deals with Mozilla and Oracle — that are not working are causing worry internally.

That concern is growing, in large part, due to nervousness about what happens after the spinoff of Yahoo’s stake in China’s Alibaba Group. Mayer said today it could be delayed until January, but once done, it means Yahoo’s shaky core business has to stand on its own.

Shaky indeed. Yahoo reported weak earnings for its third quarter yesterday, not meeting Wall Street expectations of earnings and revenue.

How to turn that around is still a work in progress, said Mayer and CFO Ken Goldman on the earning conference call with analysts.

But employees are bracing for the bumpy future. One source noted that “some execs are just slotting people in anywhere so they can hang on until whatever is planned for post-spin … people in the know know that whatever is coming post-spin isn’t great.”

Another told me in an email: “There is a lot that has improved under Marissa, but it’s still not stopping the bleed in the business and the onslaught of companies we cannot compete with as easily.”

Still another was more clear. “If the top people are jumping ship,” noting that even some existing execs like Whatever-He-Does-Now SVP Adam Cahan have been less than present at work in recent days, “then we all wonder what they know that we don’t.”

How Mayer manages this going forward will be an interesting challenge, even if she did have the unequivocally best team in the world.

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