Danger, Marissa Mayer!

 
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Marissa Mayer became the CEO of Yahoo! on July 17, 2012. On Friday, July 20, I scanned the headlines of 102 unique stories about her appointment. Well over ninety percent of them concentrated on either her pregnancy or her salary. Those are interesting, but they're destined to be historical footnotes.

The big question is whether she'll meet the challenge as Yahoo's sixth CEO in five years. That's a very big question indeed.

The move to CEO is one of the hardest in a career. The only move that matches it is the one from individual contributor to boss. As CEO, she will be where the buck stops and the one responsible to the Board. She will be the public face of Yahoo.

To make this even more challenging, Ms Mayer was brought in from outside over an inside candidate, Ross Levinsohn. And, to make things more challenging yet, Yahoo as a company has had a pretty rocky history.

Remember that Dave Filo and Jerry Yang didn't start Yahoo as a business. It was the heyday of the Dot-Com bubble, and people essentially threw money at them to start a company. Tim Koogle was brought in as "adult supervision" and CEO in 1995, when Yahoo imagined itself as a tech company.

By 2001, Yahoo had decided to pivot to being a media company. Koogle resigned. Just a few weeks later, Yahoo hired Terry Semel as CEO. He had run movie studios. Movies were media. All would be well. But six years later, Semel was out and founder Jerry Yang was CEO for two, disastrous years.

Carol Bartz was the next CEO. Two years and change after Yahoo hired the tough-talking CEO, they fired her, over the phone, no less.

Tom Morse was the acting CEO for the three months it took to hire Scott Thompson. Evidently that didn't allow enough time to check his credentials. Thompson left the company over a falsified resume after a little over three months.

Ross Levinsohn was named interim CEO and many people thought he would make a great CEO, but it was not to be. Yahoo reached out after a two month search to appoint Marissa Mayer.

She's taking the helm of a company that's dysfunctional in many ways. They've also got real problems defining themselves and their distinctive competence. It would be a big challenge under the best of circumstances. Being the sixth CEO in five years just makes it harder.

The good news is that Ms Mayer seems to understand which ball she needs to keep her eye on. Her memo to Yahoo employees makes a point that "companies are the people" and invites their ideas. The only way she and Yahoo will win is if she can inspire their commitment and engagement.

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Comments

  • 7/23/2012 9:19 PM Bret Simmons wrote:
    Great thoughts, Wally. I've been thinking about this issue a lot lately. You are right to point out that one of the main issues here is that she is an outsider brought in to turn around a company that sucks (IMHO). Not an easy task. Thanks for sharing!
    Reply to this
    1. 7/24/2012 8:00 AM Wally Bock wrote:

      Thanks, Bret. To quote Noal Bushnell, "It's bad to confuse good luck with good management." In the beginning, Yahoo had plenty of good luck. But it's never really had good management.


      Reply to this
  • 7/24/2012 9:41 PM John Hunter wrote:
    Yahoo is defiantly in a difficult spot. And the sense is that they are really in bad shape - that sense though is overblown I think. They have been stumbling around for quite some time. But the company isn't as dead as many people think.

    A few good moves and it could be in great shape.

    The pay is ludicrously too high. I would not be surprised to see her succeed impressively. I also wouldn't be surprised to see her effort fail to make a big difference. She will get far far far too much credit/blame for whatever happens. And far far too much pay either way.
    Reply to this
    1. 7/25/2012 9:14 AM Wally Bock wrote:

      Thanks for adding to the conversation, John. I disagree about the severity of Yahoo's problems. I think they're systemic and that will make them harder to solve.


      Reply to this
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