Struggling empire Yahoo has a new CEO, and she just happens to be Google’s top female engineer.
Marissa Mayer was famously one of the first people over at Google, its first lady engineer in fact (employee #20), and is known best for being responsible for the minimalist look and feel of the now iconic Google search page. She was Google’s VP for Search and User Experience, which says a lot for a company that’s all about the experience. And she was also right up there in the executive committee with the powerhouse duo of Sergei Brin and Larry Page (she and Larry used to date).
She’s also pretty much down to earth. Her last Google+ update before announcing her becoming the new Yahoo CEO was:
Finally breaking in to Breaking Bad after tons of recommendations. Am going to try to watch just one episode a day. Can it be done?
But now she’s the Chief Yahoo. So now the question that everyone is asking is, can she turn Yahoo around?
Yahoo is a tough ship to steer. For one thing, it does still have quite a number of formidable assets, making it still a powerhouse (albeit outdated) web presence. On the other hand, Yahoo is saddled by a huge pile of nonperforming assets that burdens the business and threatens its profitability.
In fact, Yahoo is such a tough nut to crack that it’s had five CEOs in just the span of one year: Carol Bartz, Tim Morse, Scott Thompson, Ross Levinsohn and now Mayer. Granted, two of them (Morse and Levinsohn) were just interim CEOs, and Thompson got fired for fudging his resume (he claimed to have a background in computer science), but it’s still pretty symbolic: Yahoo needs to choose its CEO real carefully to move forward.
How stuck is Yahoo? Jerry Yang, who founded the company, came back as Chief Yahoo from 2007 to 2009, purportedly to rescue the company and turn it around. And… nothing. He couldn’t even figure out a direction for the mess of businesses that Yahoo had.
Carol Bartz, who came from CAD-maker Autodesk, was a promising choice at the start. She was a techie and she was all business, and her thrust was one of reorganization. Unfortunately, while a reorg was needed, what Yahoo needed most was a direction.
Thompson, during his brief stint, continued the reorg with a bloody ax, cutting thousands of jobs worldwide. It was painful, but in terms of making Yahoo profitable probably needed. But again, the direction thing was still needed. And then yeah, he got fired.
Mayer may just be what Yahoo needs right now. She’s a techie, so she knows the ins and outs of the industry, and she’s all about the user experience. Her best bet in order to turn Yahoo around will be by giving it a strategic direction, plain and simple. She will have to answer the long-standing question: What is Yahoo? And once she determines this, she can proceed to prune out the non-Yahoo assets and consolidate the Yahoo-ish ones.
Oh, and she’s also pregnant right now, so some are worried that she won’t be able to sustain any early momentum. But I think that’s a bit unfair to her. She knows what she’s getting herself into.
So what must Mayer do? Make Yahoo relevant once again. Give people a reason to seek it out. Make the user experience an exhilarating one, even when faced with formidable substitutes such as her old flame Google and Facebook. Select the portfolio of services that can make Yahoo a terrific one stop online shop.
All while watching one episode of Breaking Bad per day.
Can she do it? Let’s just say that when it comes to building up the user experience for Yahoo, she may be the right person. But when it comes to the other aspects of making Yahoo profitable, such as laying off unnecessary elements and streamlining the operations, she may not have the experience here, and so what she will be needing is a hatchet person by her side.
Good luck to you, Marissa. Let’s hope you put the Yahoo! back in Yahoo.
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