Can Mayer Make Yahoo a Cool Place to Work Again?

Susan Hall

The tech world's taken aback with Google's Marissa Mayer being named CEO of Yahoo and incredulous that she'd take the job at the struggling Internet pioneer. In one fell swoop, Yahoo has become cool again, according to Ben Parr at CNET.

She's being hailed as a success story for women in tech — doubly so since she also revealed she's seven months pregnant, which evokes pride and apprehension for her at the same time.

Much is being made of the fact that she's a technologist, not an ad specialist, though the company's revenue comes largely from media. There's the question of whether she'll be able to retain acting CEO Ross Levinsohn, whose strength is media. She's been compared to Carol Bartz, who also was a technologist, but didn't fare so well with advertising. She was booted out last year.

But an unnamed source told The New York Post:

The board recognized the biggest issue was not selling ads, it was users. They needed someone who stood for the users.

It also quotes email from Google CEO Larry Page, saying:

Since arriving at Google just over 13 years ago as employee No. 20,  Marissa has been a tireless champion of our users. She contributed to the development of our Search, Geo, and Local products as well as many other product areas. We will miss her talents at Google.

GigaOm poses the issue as a battle between product vs. media. By choosing Mayer, it says, the board sided with product:

... having the best technology equals win — and it’s a lot harder to bring in people on the product side than it is to hire for media.

It’s particularly difficult when a company has gained a rep for wrecking products or failing to deliver on ideas or overcrowding to the point that nothing comes through the clutter. Yahoo hopes hiring Mayer will start the engineer hiring equivalent of “follow the leader” ...

The question remains about what Mayer will do to stem the exodus of talent from Yahoo. She needs Levinsohn's media expertise and the company needs the stability in the management layer below him. Parr believes Mayer, attractive and likeable previously as a frequent voice for Google, will draw top-flight talent back to Yahoo. Kara Swisher at All Things Digital wants to hear more about specific plans:

It’s one thing to say look-world-I’m-here, and quite another to make a cogent argument to Silicon Valley’s best and brightest to come join Yahoo over much more promising startups and even big companies. What is the principal selling point you’ll use to get people to board what I used to refer to as the S.S. Yangtanic?

Perhaps she'll address that in Yahoo's earnings call later today.

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