17th Jul 2012
She helped to make G-Mail a success, she gets social and her Cloud credentials are impeccable, but is a 37 year old who’s never held a CEO post in her life really the right person to turn around the fortunes of troubled Yahoo?
Yahoo hasn’t had a great track record with CEOs of late. In September last year Carol Bartz was fired after two and a half years in the hot seat, succeeded by Scott Thompson who was subsequently accused of being embarrassingly ‘creative’ with his CV. Amid allegations of a fake computer sciences degree, he stepped down in May.
Since then Ross Levinsohn has acted as interim CEO and had been widely tipped to take on the role on a permanent basis. But Silicon Valley and Wall Street were taken by surprise yesterday when it was announced that Google executive Marissa Mayer is the chosen successor.
Just to make sure it was a day of surprises, Mayer topped off the news by announcing that she will be taking up her new role while pregnant with her first child. Her due date is 7th October and she plans to work up to that point and take only a few weeks maternity leave. She said she had informed Yahoo's board about her pregnancy before the 11 directors unanimously voted to hire her.
Mayer was employee number 20 at Google and has worked on some of its flagship projects, including its search product and iconic homepage for over 10 years. She’s credited with managing some of Google's most successful innovations, launching more than 100 features and products including image, book and product search, toolbar, iGoogle, Google News, and Gmail.
Most recently, Mayer was responsible for Local, Maps, and Location Services for Google, including Google Maps, Google Earth, Zagat, Street View, and local search, for desktop and mobile.
Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt hailed Mayer as "a great product person, very innovative and a real perfectionist who always wants the best for users. Yahoo has made a great choice."
So impressive enough social and Cloud CV – but there’s still the concern that she’s never been a CEO at a time when Yahoo badly needs stability and firm direction in the wake a dwindling ad revenues and a stock price that’s fallen to half its peak value.
“Doubters will question Yahoo's decision to hire a technology expert to run the business, over someone already experienced as a CEO,” admitted John O’Brien of research house TechMarketView. “However Yahoo needs to take bold action to turn things around. Mayer’s appointment, albeit high risk, could also re-introduce that early days buzz at Yahoo that has been sorely missing. Mayer has real hands on experience delivering products, innovations, and user experience, which Yahoo sorely needs.”
Gartner analyst Alenn Weiner also raised some question marks over the appointment. “While not an obscure choice, Mayer is a less than obvious one with her engineering and product skill set more of a match for Yahoo’s needs a decade ago rather than its current needs as a technology-based media company,” he noted.
Weiner reckons that the passed over (for the second time) Levinsohn will almost certainly quit Yahoo, but that Mayer must try to retain him. “It will take a minor miracle for Levinsohn to stay, but locking Ross in as media chief should be Mayer’s first order of business,” he advised. “Ross has brought in some key media minds and his departure would likely result in a leadership exodus that would be very damaging to the company’s media strategy.”