Yahoo! Starts Walking

Is Yahoo! having a nascent recovery or a prolonged requiem? Steven Levy and Nicholas Carlson have given us the opposing views and have shown us the respective top down and bottom up perspectives. Each author provides an assessment on CEO Marissa Mayer's performance throughout her 2+ year tenure. Needless to say, the angle shapes the outcome and they arrive at different conclusions. Here is the TL;DR summary version.

At one end of the fence we have a chief executive that's made huge investments in product. Emphasis has been placed on freshening up the user experience and overhauling the 90s cruft. She has also made a bet on bringing new and younger people into Yahoo by buying talented engineers through expensive acquisitions while at the same time hauling in experienced senior Googlers to supervise it all. The axe has also fallen on culture with a revamping of the performance system, banning of work from home and the necessary booting of the non performers to accelerate innovation, enhance collaboration and energize the business.

On the other-hand, we see a chief executive that has made dangerous gambles by spending wildly on unproven startups despite Yahoo not being in a thrifty position. A good case can be made that the talent argument doesn't hold in these situations and that talented engineers in any event can be brought on board for a lot less than the hundreds of millions needed to buy a useless idea. To compound the problems the CEO appears not to be in touch and aloof. Not realizing the damaging impact that her radical policy changes are having on morale as the missteps such as the failed hiring of De Castro mount and the company continues to hemorrhage staff to nimbler giants and sexier upstarts.

Could both sides actually be two sides of the same coin? So much turmoil and change but yet very little revenue growth or gain in market position to show for it. Are we seeing another Carly Fiorina in the making? No. Not yet anyway.

There is no doubt that Mayer has embarked on the formidable task of overcoming a legacy of missed opportunities, internal drama and overall decline at Yahoo in every sense. Make no mistake this will not be conquered in two years. Time is what is needed the most if Yahoo is to chart a new course for growth and runaway profit. Lucky for her they have enough of the war-chest left to buy her a little more of this rare commodity even if the competition keeps squeezing them into a smaller and smaller space.

Investors may be getting impatient but as long as they see some cash back from the Alibaba stake in the near term my guess is the board will give her some additional time. The last thing anyone really wants is to have to find another CEO. Who would they give the job and besides firing one of the few female CEOs in the valley especially given the recent press on gender balance is a headline they would want to avoid at this time.

Nevertheless, that project Gemini had better start paying off really quickly and in leaps a la Facebook like levels in terms of mobile ad revenue surges. And I still don't know anybody using the digest or weather and definitely only my grandmother still uses Yahoo Mail. That had better change soon.

  1. Photo by Yuko Honda.

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