Leadership by Geoff Colvin

Five lessons from the Bartz and Krawcheck firings

September 12, 2011: 9:26 AM ET

Sallie Krawcheck

It was a double hit to Fortune's Most Powerful Women list last Tuesday when Yahoo (YHOO) CEO Carol Bartz and Bank of America's (BAC) Sallie Krawcheck got fired.

Bartz,  No. 10 in our 2010 MPW rankings, went out with a bang--as my explosive interview with her, F-bombs included, shows. Meanwhile, Krawcheck, BofA's global wealth management chief and No. 24 on our list, exited without a sound.

I know both women well, and it's worth observing that they are, in certain ways, a common type: They're both fierce, sometimes defiant executives who like playing "outsider" inside organizations and proudly take the flak that comes with it. "That is really good," Bartz said of this characterization, when she called me last Wednesday night, 27 hours after getting ousted.

There are more differences, though, between Bartz, who was the tech industry's most powerful woman, and Krawcheck, who was Wall Street's woman on top--and five lessons to take away from their mishaps:

1. If you must fire someone, do it in person. Bartz, who talked to Fortune exclusively, was livid that Yahoo chairman Roy Bostock fired her her over the phone. Last Tuesday, she had arrived in Manhattan for a Citigroup (C) technology conference, and Bostock "was in New York City," she said. "There's no excuse for him not meeting with me."  Same day, different style: BofA CEO Brian Moynihan booted Krawcheck in person. Rather than phone her from Charlotte, North Carolina headquarters, he wisely flew to New York.

2. If you hire an "outsider," make sure you can handle the rabblerousing. Yahoo could not--this was a case of a troubled company, an ill-fitting chief, and a board too weak to acknowledge early on that Bartz wasn't right for the turnaround challenge. As for Krawcheck, here was a financial-services star who had made the cover of Fortune as  "The Last Honest Analyst" at age 37 when she was heading research firm Sanford Bernstein and the rest of Wall Street was mired in conflict-of-interest scandals. At Citigroup (C), which brought her in to help heal its damaged reputation, she clashed with top management--and was pushed out--over the issue of reimbursing clients for bad investments. Her run at BofA wasn't so acrimonious, but outside Moynihan's inner circle at a shrinking company, she was practically doomed.

Carol Bartz

3. Speak no evil. As my colleague Dan Primack reported on Friday, Bartz's Yahoo employment contract has a non-disparagement clause. And she put a $10 million pay package at risk by calling the Yahoo directors "doofuses."  If she doesn't bash the board again, she may well get her money, it appears.

4. Age matters. Bartz is 63. Krawcheck is 46. Bartz, who resigned from the Yahoo board on Friday, remains Cisco's  (CSCO) lead independent director. After heading two major tech companies, Autodesk (ADSK) and Yahoo--there's scant chance she'll run another, she admitted to me last week. Krawcheck, in contrast, has a long runway ahead.

5. Getting fired isn't death, necessarily. Even though Moynihan didn't want Krawcheck in his new lineup, she did a good job rebuilding the bank's wealth management operation, including Merrill Lynch. Key measures--revenues, profits, margins, morale--went up, while attrition went down during her tenure. Some who know her, like bank analyst Dick Bove on CNBC last week, think the main lesson for Krawcheck is to choose her jobs better--and maybe even go back to her roots as an analyst. Won't happen. Krawcheck isn't talking, but I know from previous conversations with her that she loves a big and messy turnaround. Failure doesn't phase her. She'll be back.

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Pattie Sellers
Pattie Sellers
Senior Editor at Large, Fortune
Executive Director of MPW/Live Content, Time Inc.

Pattie Sellers has written more than 20 Fortune cover stories including "Marissa Mayer: Ready to Rumble at Yahoo," "Muhtar Kent's New Coke," "Oprah's Next Act", "The $100 Billion Woman" (Melinda Gates), and "Gone with the Wind" (Ted Turner). She co-founded Fortune Most Powerful Women and oversees the Fortune MPW Summit, the preeminent gathering of women leaders in business and beyond—and programs such as Fortune MPW Entrepreneurs and the Fortune-U.S. State Department Global Women Leaders Mentoring Partnership. Pattie also develops Live Content across Time Inc. Her blog, Postcards, is about how power players lead and navigate their careers. Pattie won Time Inc.'s prestigious MVP award for her performance in 2012.

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