Mayer Doing Terrific Job At Yahoo But Skeptics Remain

marissa-mayer-in-yahoo-logo-1362660506The 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.

Related Topics: Channel: Industry | Top News | Yahoo | Yahoo: Advertising | Yahoo: Business Issues | Yahoo: Mobile


About The Author: is a Contributing Editor at Search Engine Land. He writes a personal blog Screenwerk, about SoLoMo issues and connecting the dots between online and offline. He also posts at Internet2Go, which is focused on the mobile Internet. Follow him @gsterling.

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  • Chris Jacob

    Is Yahoo really a place where the best and brightest want to work? The ones who want a mature tech challenge but have the brand and $ behind them will go to Google, Facebook, Apple, etc. and the ones that want an innovative play would go to Twitter, Dropbox, Airbnb, Uber, etc. Then the third group would found their own companies or go to the hot new startups of tomorrow. I am not sure where Yahoo fits in all of that b/c it is certainly not in Group 2 or 3 and is a long way from playing again with the major tech leaders in Group 1.

  • gregsterling

    Fair point but I think that Yahoo’s position and reputation have improved quite a bit

  • Patel Vidhu

    Yahoo will be dead within few years. They are trying to earn money from stock market otherwise they do not have any solid product.

  • Terry Van Horne

    It only matters if Google has capacity to hire all the best and brightest. Worldwide that is not the case so what Greg is pointing too is significant. You also assume that search is Yahoo’s end strategy, clearly, it’s not! I think it’s back to it’s core of being a destination which clearly is gaining momentum illustrated by it being declared by comscore as the Number 1 destination on the web. Google’s answer to the “content” is Google+…sorry a bunch of marketers yakking primarily about their stuff does not a destination make! The days of Search being the starting point for internet users has quite possibly seen it’s hay day.

  • Chris Jacob

    I never mentioned Search once actually so I don’t assume that at all. Also as someone who has worked around the globe, Yahoo’s reputation and traction outside the US is far less barring the odd exception like Japan. This has nothing to do with search or content or just Google but where engineers want to be creating the next great thing. So if you want the budget and brand you to experiment on a larger scale you will go to the major technology brands and if you want something new you will found your own company or go to the newer dynamic and disruptive brands. Yahoo is neither of these so will always be a 2nd or 3rd choice for engineers generally.

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