The reviews of Marissa Mayer’s first year at Yahoo are generally mixed. Most pundits, financial analysts and observers praise her for injecting new energy into Yahoo, focusing on mobile and bringing on new talent, mostly by way of “acqu-hires.” However there are others who say for all the good she’s done she has yet to prove she can put revenues back on a meaningful growth track.
Yahoo announces second quarter earnings later today. And it does face challenges in both the search and display ad markets — online and in mobile. However Mayer’s first year has to be seen as an almost unqualified success in my view.
She’s made Yahoo “part of the conversation” again and made it a place that serious people want to work. It had essentially been written off by the tech press and by Silicon Valley insiders. Indeed, prior to her arrival the company was essentially dead in the water.
Consider how much worse off the company would likely be today had Scott Thompson remained in the CEO role. Also consider that Tim Armstrong has not been able to do at AOL what Mayer has done at Yahoo. AOL remains a company with an uncertain outlook and a weak brand.
By contrast, Yahoo has momentum and renewed brand strength. Of course, we’ll discover whether that “psychological” and PR momentum has translated into revenue. But I would argue that Mayer shouldn’t be judged quarter to quarter; there should be a longer-term assessment of her performance. She’s building for the future.
Some analysts attribute the 70%+ growth in Yahoo’s stock price since her arrival to the company’s interest in Alibaba. Undoubtedly the billions Yahoo is reaping from that property and the corresponding stock buyback have helped. But it would be wrong to argue that Mayer isn’t part of making Yahoo a more valuable company.
She almost single-handedly injected new vitality and confidence into the company upon her arrival. That vitality has made it socially acceptable to work at Yahoo again and undoubtedly made the company’s workforce more productive. Depressed employees generally underperform and employee turnover has huge costs for an organization.
Mayer has also focused the company on the right areas: the consumer experience broadly and mobile. Some would critique her for not laying out a profound new vision for the company that can be articulated in a pithy quote or mission statement. However she’s executing.
Mayer has made a remarkable 16 acquisitions this past year. Most of the companies were unknown or insignificant other than Tumblr. But they either contributed technology or important personnel or both. She’s also addressed long-neglected properties such as Yahoo Mail, News and the homepage and she’s building everything for a new, multiplatform world.
I have a hard time thinking of a situation where a single charismatic individual has been able to come in, positively impact the culture of an organization and literally flip perceptions of the company in such a short time. The only other one that comes to mind is Steve Jobs when he returned to the CEO role at Apple years ago.
Mayer isn’t yet operating at that level. But she’s off to a great start.