Yahoo: Beyond selling it, what exactly did Marissa Mayer do?
In 1997, Marissa Mayer graduated from Stanford University. Two years later, she ditched about 14 job offers to join Google as employee number 20. That was 1999. When the online space was ruled by Yahoo. Was.
Back then, if you wanted to make it big in the online world, you had to compete with Yahoo. When Mayer joined Google, she was the first female engineer on Google’s rolls. Over the years, she rose through the ranks to become the Director of Consumer Web Products. Primarily she was responsible for the layout of the least cluttered homepage we’ve grown fond of. In fact, she was also responsible for approving doodles that went on the most popular search engine.
Switch to 2012, after spending 13 years at Google, she was appointed President and CEO of Yahoo. The prognosis of Yahoo at the time was similar to BlackBerry. In both cases, the patients needed the able care of a specialist. BlackBerry eventually found a specialist in the form of John Chen, who’s known for turning around companies in a similar state. While BlackBerry is a story by itself, Yahoo was different. Yahoo was far bigger. And unlike titans who met a fading fate, Yahoo had hope. It was, however, guilty of the blunder BlackBerry and Nokia committed – not catching up with the changing times. Soon they were outnumbered.
Four years since Marissa Mayer has been at the helm of affairs at Yahoo, the company has been bought out by Verizon for a little under $5 billion.
In 2007, when Steve Jobs launched the Apple iPhone, BlackBerry didn’t pay enough attention. That coupled with the new found threat in the form of yet another Google product Android ensured that the nails were completely entrenched in BlackBerry’s coffin. It was a tough, yet enduring collapse.
In case you’re wondering why I’m harbouring around BlackBerry and Nokia, it’s because both products have had interests in the consumer facing side of the market, as well as some interests in the business side. Nokia, not so much. But for BlackBerry, enterprise was big.
Following the 2008 global financial meltdown, the automobile industry faced a terrible crisis between 2008 and 2010. What’s the connection? There was yet another famous hire made. In 2013, Mary Barra was hired CEO and President of General Motors, which was battling many problems. She is the first female CEO of a global automaker.
Having set the context here with 3 ailing companies, and two companies with female CEOs given the responsibility of turning around a company, I’d like to draw your attention to some specifics. Both Mayer and Barra received attention for being women CEOs. I’m sure many of you hadn’t heard of Barra before. Some of you may blame it on the lack of interest in the automobile sector. That’s a fair argument. But if you care about empowered women steering huge corporations away from perdition, then you must know more about Mary Barra for being successful with General Motors.
In her first year at GM, Barra had to issue 84 product recalls resulting in about 30 million cars being recalled. That’s no joke. Having endured difficult times at GM, she has been listed as the world’s most powerful women for the third time in 2014. In 2013, she started out at number 35, reaching 7th position within one year. She topped Fortune magazine’s list of most powerful women in 2015.
On one hand, we hear so much about the rise of Marissa Mayer. On the other, many wonder who Mary Barra is. Such is life.
Wonder why this happened? The tech world needed an iconic leader to turn around Yahoo. When I was mentioning BlackBerry earlier, I remember Thorsten Heins. Immediately after the co-founders of BlackBerry stepped down, an insider was appointed to lead the team and turn it around. What happened a couple of years later? He was ousted. The damage was too deep and it didn’t seem that BlackBerry 10 was doing anything remarkable for the fortunes of the company – software or devices.
We love personalities who do the impossible. Who turn sagging fortunes of titans. In them, we find inspiration. Sometimes, they stand up those expectations. Sometimes, they go down with it. And some walk with their head held high.
And I wonder which category Mayer falls under. What I do realise though, is there was hardly any reason that justified the hype and attention around her rise as a star who the world expected to turn Yahoo around. Through the years, instead of clamping down on the deadweights at Yahoo, it was taking the route of some expensive acquisitions. There was a time, long ago, when Yahoo rejected an offer to buy Google! Sure, no one can time the industry, or accurately predict outcomes. Everything’s a risk. But then, not very long ago, Microsoft offered to buy Yahoo for $40 billion.
Despite the attention she received for being a woman CEO with the responsibility of turning the company around, the fact is technology is gender agnostic. Innovation is gender agnostic. And customer delight is gender agnostic. Many times in the past, debates have taken place over sexism in the Valley. The turn of events in the past few years have shown women who have turned around companies at graver situations. And instances where the turn around has been impressive. Perhaps a lot of time has been lost for Yahoo. I feel it’s similar to Nokia. Clearly from $40 billion to $4 billion, it’s come a long way.
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