The Marissa Mayer experiment is over. She couldn't perform the miracle | Women's Agenda

The Marissa Mayer experiment is over. She couldn’t perform the miracle

When the shit hits the fan for a company, its customary to finally try something completely different.

And what could be more different than appointing a young, female CEO!

I vividly remember the day Marissa Mayer was named CEO of Yahoo back in 2012, and sitting down to write about the significance of appointing a woman to such a high profile position in tech. Mayer was also five months pregnant at the time, which only heightened the public interest — as well as the judgement — in her taking the role.

I also remember being surprised, having personally finished up as a tech reporter years earlier, that Yahoo was still a big deal, and that anyone had much faith in its future. It had long lost the search wars. It had failed at a number of significant business pivots. It had been plagued by a number of disastrous decisions by its board, and it was a shell of its former self. One former CEO, Scott Thompson, only lasted a few months before revelations emerged about discrepancies on his resume.

Yahoo had had five CEOs in five years before Mayer was appointed. In 2008, while Mayer was halfway through her much-celebrated tenure at Google, the Yahoo board turned down a jaw-dropping US$45 billion acquisition offer from Microsoft. Later that year, Yahoo was laying off staff. In 2012 before Mayer’s appointment, the company was again cutting staff: removing 14% of its workforce, with 2000 jobs going. 

In 2012, I remember thinking that Mayer would have to be very, very good to turn this one around. She’d need to perform a couple of miracles. 

Turns out Mayer’s not actually the patron saint of tech.

But she didn’t do all that badly, given the task she was given. 

Mayer tried to rebuild Yahoo into a mobile-centric platform, overhauling its brands like Yahoo Mail and weather. She oversaw numerous acquisitions, including the $1 billion purchase of blogging platform Tumblr, in her bid to create a dominating media destination. Mayer also dared to not blend in when it came to her appearance. She continued to wear colourful dresses and designer gowns at public events. She participated in a spread in Vogue.

And, perhaps unsurprisingly, she lost plenty of friends in the process. Mayer was voted the least likeable CEO in tech by business insights website Owler. Her ban on staff working remotely certainly didn’t help, nor the fact she also axed thousands of employees.

However, Mayer did make the company relevant for a period, and eventually led it into a major acquisition to Verizon for $4.5 billion. As she noted in a long list of achievements today, Yahoo’s stock tripled during her time there, ending on a 17-year high 

Today, Verizon has announced it has officially closed its acquisition of Yahoo. The former tech giant will be folded into a subsidiary called Oath, covering a number of media assets, and led by former AOL CEO Tim Armstrong.

Mayer has resigned. She’ll reportedly receive a $23 million payout, or ‘golden parachute’. CNN Money reports that given the shares she owned in the company, she’ll walk away with a massive US$260 million. Mayer wrote on her Tumblr page that it “marks the end of an era for Yahoo, as well as the beginning of a new chapter”. “Given the inherent changes to my role, I’ll be leaving the company. However, I want all of you to know that I’m brimming with nostalgia, gratitude and optimism.”

The problem with being different in a CEO role, as Mayer was, is that you will also be scrutinised: Your decisions will be analysed obsessively in the business and tech press, and your failures used as evidence that the ‘different’ approach was a gamble that’s gone spectacularly wrong.

I’m not convinced any male CEO could have done a better job than Mayer, but I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t have had anything like the level of scrutiny and attention Mayer’s been given. I’m also willing to guess that he wouldn’t have have finished his tenure being voted tech’s least liked CEO. 

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