The bio listed two degrees — in accounting and computer science — from Stonehill College, a small school near Boston. After discovering Thompson never received a computer science degree, Loeb exposed the fabrication in a May 3 letter to Yahoo's board. The revelation raised questions about why the accomplishment had periodically appeared on his bio in the years while he was running PayPal, an online payment service owned by eBay Inc.
Yahoo initially stood behind Thompson, brushing off the inclusion of the bogus degree as an "inadvertent error." But harsh criticism from employees, shareholders and corporate governance experts prompted the board to appoint a special committee to investigate how the fabrication occurred.
Thompson, 54, spent much of the past week scrambling to save his job. He sent a memo to employees, apologizing for distractions caused by news of the illusory degree and then sought to assure other Yahoo executives that he wasn't the source of the inaccuracy. He blamed a Chicago headhunting firm, Heidrick & Struggles.
In an internal memo last week, Heidrick & Struggles denied Thompson's accusation.
"This allegation is verifiably not true and we have notified Yahoo! to that effect," CEO Kevin Kelly wrote to employees. On Sunday, a spokesman for the firm declined to comment.
In a twist, The Wall Street Journal reported Monday that Thompson had told the board last week that he has thyroid cancer. The diagnosis contributed to his decision to step down, according to the newspaper's unidentified sources.
Yahoo isn't paying Thompson a severance package, according to a document it filed Monday. The contract he signed in January entitled him to severance if he was terminated "without cause."
The flap over the misleading bio elevated the angst in Yahoo just a month after Thompson laid off 2,000 employees, or 14 percent of the work force, the biggest payroll purge in the company's history. In recent weeks, Thompson had been drawing up plans to close or sell about 50 of Yahoo's services and had antagonized much of Silicon Valley with a lawsuit alleging the rapidly growing social network Facebook stole some technology from Yahoo.
"In spite of the very bumpy road we've traveled, we are achieving genuine and meaningful successes in the marketplace every day and heading in the right direction," Levinsohn wrote Sunday.
Stifel Nicolaus analyst Jordan Rohan thinks Levinsohn's media background may make him better qualified to be Yahoo's CEO than Thompson, whose experience is rooted in e-commerce.
"Ross Levinsohn is a common-sense executive, a pragmatic operator who people love to work for," Rohan said. "He is the right guy for this job."
Thompson's inaccurate bio might have been more forgivable at a company that was posting big returns for its shareholders, said James Post, a management professor at Boston University.
Yahoo's stock has been sagging since it squandered an opportunity to sell itself to Microsoft Corp. in May 2008 for $33 per share, or $47.5 billion.
The shares, which haven't traded above $20 since September 2008, climbed 31 cents to close at $15.50, leaving Yahoo with a market value of $19 billion. That's roughly the same as the individual fortunes of Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, whose company went public in 2004.
Facebook founder Mark Zuckerbeg's wealth could surpass Yahoo's market value depending on the price set in an initial public offering of stock that is expected to be set Thursday.
Yahoo's struggles center on the company's inability to keep up with Google and Facebook in the race for online advertising. Its annual revenue has fallen from a peak of $7.2 billion in 2008 to $5 billion last year. Over the same period, Google's annual revenue climbed from $22 billion in 2008 to $38 billion last year. Facebook's rose from $272 million in 2008 to $3.7 billion last year.