Yahoo! CEO Lies About His Education. Now What?

Nick Fishman

By now, many of you might have heard that new Yahoo! CEO, Scott Thompson misrepresented his educational qualifications. But unlike some other high profile cases we’ve seen over the years (see Radio Shack CEO and MIT Dean of Admissions stories), Thompson didn’t say he had a graduate degree that he didn’t have.  He said that he graduated from Stonehill College with accounting and computer science.  Well, he did earn a degree in accounting, but the university didn’t offer a computer science degree in 1979 when he graduated: thus, no computer science degree.  As Homer Simpson would say, “DOH!”

How did this come to light? It seems like someone clearly had an ax to grind with Yahoo!  It’s being reported that the lie was uncovered by a hedge fund manager who is seeking more control over the company.

Does that excuse the lie?  Probably not.  But how many ways could this have come to life over the years the decades that Thompson has made this claim? You’d think an employer might have spotted it by conducting a standard background check, right?  That depends.  If all of his past employers conducted an education verification, this should have been an fairly easy catch.  I say fairly easy because there’s a bit of a caveat here.

If the University came back and indicated that Thompson had earned a degree as we said, perhaps the employer just assumed that if the accounting degree was earned, than surely the computer science degree was also earned.  And I could accept that for his earlier employment. However, when he became a major executive eBay and Paypal, you’d think this would have come to light.  Well, maybe it did.  Those two companies just reported his accounting degree on their SEC filings.  Do you think they knew about the resume lie and chose to move forward in spite of it?

And now to Yahoo!  Did they forget to do a background check? My guess is that they probably did, but they took Thompson’s word for his educational credentials.  I just don’t see any other way it was missed.

Is this a minor white lie or egregious fraud?  He might very well have used it to get a leg up early on in his career, however at this point in the game, the falsification did nothing for him whatsoever.  He was respected and established and his experience ran miles around the degree he never attained.

So now Yahoo! has a huge problem.  On one hand, this guy is probably the perfect candidate for the job. On the other, this lie has reflected poorly on the company.  Stay tuned.  His fate will probably be decided within the next couple days.

Nick Fishman

Nick Fishman is the co-founder of EmployeeScreenIQ, a leading, global employment background screening provider, and serves as the company’s executive vice president and chief marketing officer. He pioneered the creation of EmployeeScreen University, the #1 educational resource on employment background checks for human resources, security and risk management professionals. A recognized industry expert, Nick is a frequent author, presenter and contributor to the news media. Nick is also a licensed private investigator in the states of Ohio and Texas.