Sartain, among the highest-profile human resources leaders in the nation, said her decision to step down after roughly seven years at Yahoo was not prompted by pressures on the job but fulfills a long-discussed plan to spend time on her Texas ranch.
The 53-year-old intends to take off the rest of 2008 and then consider other options including non-profit work.
“My work is done here,” Sartain told Workforce Management in an interview Tuesday, March 18. “I’m just taking a little bit of a break.”
Sartain says she will be replaced as “chief people Yahoo” by David Windley, who has served as a Yahoo vice president of HR.
Yahoo, a pioneer on the Internet, has weathered tough times over the past year, including slumping profits. It reportedly has laid off more than 1,000 employees this year. And the company recently was targeted by Microsoft in an unsolicited takeover bid.
Sartain came to Yahoo in 2001 after serving as head of HR at Southwest Airlines.
She served as chair of the Society for Human Resource Management in 2001 and has co-written two books: HR From the Heart: Inspiring Stories and Strategies for Building the People Side of Great Business and Brand From the Inside: Eight Essentials to Emotionally Connect Your Employees to Your Business.
Under her watch, Yahoo was named one of Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to Work For in America in 2006, 2007 and 2008.
Sartain also has come under criticism. Kara Swisher, a tech columnist for The Wall Street Journal’s All Things Digital Web site, wrote last year that “Sartain does attract an unusual amount of ire from some in the company for not being as supportive as one might hope.”
Sartain said Tuesday that she was not worried about popularity, but results. “I didn’t feel any pressure to leave,” she said.
Sartain said she has talked about leaving the Internet company for some time, but firmed up plans last fall as the company began a restructuring effort. She said it was clear that the effort, led by co-founder Jerry Yang, would last three or four years.
Recognizing that she wouldn’t be there for the entire project, she told Yang she’d leave in about six months. Sartain came up with the end-of-March departure date in January, she says.
She says her proudest accomplishments at Yahoo include shepherding the firm’s rapid growth in personnel, from some 3,000 employees when she arrived to 14,300 at the end of 2007, even as Yahoo competed for talent against the likes of Google.
After a 30-year career in HR, she’s planning to relax on a ranch outside of Austin that once was occupied by her great-great-great-grandfather.
“I want to take some time off and watch my cows graze,” she says.