Monday, March 14, 2016

Can Mayer Survive at Yahoo?

Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo
Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer is still trying to keep her job, despite the growing number of people demanding her dismissal. Shareholders, disappointed with Yahoo’s apparent inability to pull out of a dive, are among the loudest critics. In response to these calls, Mayer agreed to an interview with PBS anchor Charlie Rose.

When asked about her future, Mayer remained positive, saying she would love to be running Yahoo next year. Coupled with this comment, Mayer added some quotes meant to endear her to the rest of the team: “we have a terrific team at Yahoo, and I really hope they’re allowed to continue on to do good work.”

Interesting phrasing. Note that Mayer went from inclusive language (we) to exclusive language (they) in the same sentence. Was that a mistake of phrasing or was Mayer telegraphing something even more extreme than her own firing? Bigger problems at Yahoo, perhaps?

In the same interview, Mayer admitted things are Yahoo are far from rosy. The company is lagging in key market areas, particularly mobile. She admitted that fact while trying to defend her own record. When Mayer was hired, she says the company only had 50 engineers. Now, says Mayer, they have more than 500 working on mobile tech. That, according to Mayer, makes Yahoo “one of the biggest app development shops in the world.”

Well, if that’s true, good for Marissa, but it may be too little too late. When consumers think of app designers does anyone really bring up Yahoo? The company is coming to the party much later than competitors who already have established markets and sales chains.

Mayer said she helped Yahoo shorten their learning curve by acquiring various properties already working in the field. Unfortunately, according to independent watchdogs, those acquisitions didn’t really pan out. So, is it truly a point in the plus column that you made acquisitions in the right industries … even if those acquisitions didn’t pan out?

Mayer says yes. While many of the buys didn’t produce, Yahoo moved up in the world of digital apps, a line of business the “who are they again?” company sorely needed in order to become relevant again.

So, she won at least once, more or less. Not exactly a ringing endorsement or solid reason to be kept around. What else did Mayer have to say in her defense? Not too much, unfortunately. She said the company had a new strategic plan, without going into too much detail, and she obliquely asked for more time, saying “I don’t think the story has yet played out.”

Mayer then offered a timetable, saying many tech turnarounds take up to seven years to really reverse course.

It’s dangerous in any vulnerable PR position to put a specific timetable on eventual success. There are three possible outcomes: they give you the time, and you succeed, they give you the time, and you fail, or they don’t give you the time and hire someone who says they can do it in less. Two of those three outcomes are bad. One positive result out of three is not good odds.

David Milberg is an investment banker from NYC.

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