When Marissa Mayer took over as CEO of Yahoo!, it was a catalyst for change. Having lost their way long ago, the former champions of search were in desperate need of transformation. With Meyers at the helm, the Yahoo! ship is now changing direction, but to what end? If all their recent moves (and rumored acquisitions) are any indication, Yahoo! may not want to be Yahoo! for much longer.
Where Yahoo! went wrong
Yahoo! was founded in 1994 by college friends Jerry Yang and David Filo. The goal was to give the internet a little structure, and focus, by organizing search results. In a time of Ask Jeeves, Lycos, and Netscape, Yahoo! was a refreshingly straightforward approach. It was easier on the eyes, gave better results, and later lumped in services like email to make it the first one-stop internet portal for many of us.
Over time, the sizable number of acquisitions by Yahoo! clouded the focus it began with. A company that started with such a simple concept soon found itself bloated, broke, and bartering for survival. Spending money to make money is not new thinking, but Yahoo! only got half of that right. Acquisitions that were later shelved or shuttered left Yahoo! with no return on investment, and the added bulk only served to weigh them down when they could least afford it.
The advent of Google, with their incredible search algorithm, left Yahoo! in another bind. Like any search engine ir web portal, Yahoo! relies on selling advertising space for much of their revenue. Even with a 3 year jump on Google, Yahoo! was caught off guard by Larry and Sergey. The two companies were on a different arc, with Google breaking ground on an empire, and Yahoo! digging through the rubble of theirs.
Mayer has the distinction of being employee number 20 at Google, as well as its first female engineer. Mayer was instrumental in many key services like GMail and Search, famously keeping the Google landing page subtle. She seemed to be everything a company could hope for: beautiful, bright, and bold. There was, however, a point in which she reached waters at Google she couldn’t navigate successfully.
Schmidt, Page, and the management shakeup
While Larry Page and Sergey Brin were finding their way within Google, Eric Schmidt was the defacto “adult supervision”. A tried and true CEO, Schmidt had a very vanilla way of organizing the company. The structure suited Mayer, and left her with a very clear and concise trajectory to follow in her quest for greatness.
As Schmidt moved away from the helm, and Page regained control, the Google universe shifted. The new CEO, a founder along with Brin, had a very clear idea on what Google should be. As with many management shifts, the structure changed. Schmidt, for instance, had an oversight committee, which Page almost immediately disbanded. That committee, which Mayer sat on, had a direct hand in the direction of perhaps the largest tech company ever. As Page disbanded the committee, a chain of events began, throwing Mayer’s future at Google into uncertainty.
Mayer the climber
Marissa Mayer is an ambitious woman. For someone with a drive like hers, simply being a cog in the wheel isn’t good enough. With the oversight committee being dissolved, and her being passed up for one of several open Senior Vice President spots after the Page regime began, Mayer’s direction fell prey to the fog of corporate war. She went from a beloved figure to embattled talent in very little time.
She was well suited for any SVP position in the company, having held so many key roles and been instrumental in so much of Google’s early success. Mayer was now increasingly unavailable and unseen, whereas she was once the darling of Google. While the real reasons are not known, her role was increasingly diminishing at Google. No promotion, no committee, and no public face time. She was being relegated to simply being employee number 20, and that clearly didn’t suit her. She said all the right things about her role at Google, but the fire was still burning. She wanted, and maybe needed, more.