Marissa Mayer is a No Brainer for Yahoo

The GooGirl turned Yahoo! CEO is female and it turns pregnant and due in October–all of which is certainly compelling on a human interest level.  It certainly gives the news media a number of angles to cover her story (which certainly beats some of sexist coverage she has received from some male bloggers bringing up her looks as a criteria for evaluation).

First of all, Mayer is not the first female CEO of Yahoo—let’s not forget Carol Bartz’ disastrous tenure. And Mayer has made her name for achievements which really have very little to do with gender. As she joins the still relatively thin ranks of other CEO’s who happen to be female—such as HP’s Meg Whitman—all eyes are on her.  In effect this is like a coming out party for Mayer, who will from now on be known for what she achieves or doesn’t achieve with Yahoo. Expectations are high.

One of the questions that got raised this week was about the risk that Yahoo was taking in going with Mayer, who is unproven as a CEO.  From a marketing—and a business perspective—however, I think Yahoo really is not taking much of a risk.  Yes, they might fail to revamp their company and right the ship, and Yahoo could go the way of MySpace, Friendster and Netscape, another relic of a bygone era before Google, when they ruled the internet for the brief period at the end of 90’s.

But really, for Yahoo to right the ship, they need exactly this kind of change. Not to go with a possibly transformative figure like this would have been the far bigger mistake.  By plucking Mayer from the upper ranks of their chief rivals, they not only get a CEO who has made her name by creating the kind of interactive search portal that Yahoo wishes to become but they also take away that same talent—along with all her connections–from Google.  No, from whatever perspective you look at it, they would have had to have been a bunch of Yahoos to pass her up!

Given Yahoo’s steadily declining standing, audience and share prices they needed to make a change before the slide became an all-out free fall, a la Blackberry maker, Research in Motion.  With 700 million subscribers worldwide they are nowhere near that, nor do they want to be.

Actually, the far bigger risk is for Mayer, who had quietly made her name at Google and now could conceivably put her stellar reputation at risk with a company whose board former CEO Carol Bartz described as “passive aggressive” and “incompetent.”  Mayer clearly could have stayed at Google and continued to make her contributions to that company but instead has chosen the far more ambitious step of jumping ship to reshape Google’s competitor in her image.

It is a very ambitious move and her success will definitely remake her brand as much as it does Yahoo’s. We will all be watching how the GooGirl fairs among the Yahoos, and whether the youthful energy she brings is enough to rekindle Yahoo’s long lost mojo.


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