Marissa Mayer: What Happened to the Tech World’s Wonder Woman?

Marissa Mayer: What Happened to the Tech World’s Wonder Woman?

Marissa Mayer, once touted as Yahoo’s savior, left the firm in disgrace after a series of high-profile scandals. Mayer, a Stanford University graduate, joined Yahoo in 2012 after a 13-year stint at Google, having joined the iconic tech giant in its very early days.
She started out as employee #20 at Google with unassuming tasks such as writing code and developing Google’s search feature. She climbed her way up through the ranks and substantially contributed to Google features that are today used daily by most consumers worldwide, such as Google search, Gmail, Google Maps, and Google Images – she was so influential at Google that we could safely say that Mayer personally shaped the way we use the internet today. All the while, she spread the knowledge by teaching at her alma mater, Stanford, and mentored budding tech superstars through programs that she created for Google employees.

So influential was she, that she was listed in Fortune Magazine’s 50 Most Powerful Women in Business for 7 years in a row, in Forbes’ amongst World’s 100 Most Powerful Women, and also in the Time 100. After what looked to the outside, as a promotion within Google, she switched gears and left the company that she helped build. She joined Yahoo at the young age of 37, a wife, mother and, with her no-nonsense leadership style, a woman to be reckoned with. Despite all of this, she is now ranked as one of the least liked CEOs in tech. So, what went wrong?

One of her first large acquisitions at Yahoo was to purchase Tumblr for 1.1Billion. The blogging website subsequently dropped in value by almost 25%, leading to a falling stock price and a major revenue loss for Yahoo. The single successful venture during this time – Yahoo’s acquisition of retail giant Alibaba – was secured before Mayer even set foot at Yahoo.

Mayer came on board to overhaul a company that was quickly becoming irrelevant in the fast-paced Tech world and promised to revamp the mobile user experience and bring Yahoo into the golden circle of Tech companies by making changes within.
Whilst most Tech companies now know that the key to a successful company is happy employees, it seems that Evita – as by now Mayer was being referred to – missed the memo. A major change she spearheaded was banning telecommuting employees from working from home: all employees were forced to work in-house. This goes starkly against the high-tech corporate culture and value system and seems hypocritical – being that Mayer built her baby son a nursery in her office suite at Yahoo so that she could come to work after giving birth, a luxury that most women do not have.

Mayer was accused by her peers of being a stuck up and robotic, who is obsessed with numbers and data to test whether a font, graphic or border would be effective. She would deliberate over the smallest details and famously refused to sign off on any project unless it had been extensively tested and every detail expertly decided on. This approach seemed to work well for her at Google, where the company’s clean interface and user-friendly features made it the homepage of the internet. On the other hand, prior to joining Google she crunched the numbers and gave the start-up only a 2% chance of success, and she was certainly wrong about that.

Whilst initially inspiring hope by acquiring $200 M worth of startups, just to be able to hire the talent within each of those companies, this move only partially helped the sinking company raise its usage numbers. A combination of micro-managing to the extreme, yet being unavailable to the 25 key employees that reported to her, led to a palpable sense of frustration in the company.
The final nail in the proverbial coffin was a series of security breaches that she was accused of ignoring or not adequately dealing with.

She has now left Yahoo the epic mess of dealing with the failed Yahoo/Mozilla deal that her successors must now untangle.

Still to this day, little is known about Marissa, other than the fact that she is renting the old Google office at Palo Alto, California that has been home to some of the Internet’s biggest success stories. From there, Marissa is working at a technology business start-up incubator that will focus on consumer media and artificial intelligence.

Do we always return to our roots in life? In her early 40s, will Marissa manage to build upon her professional experience to reach new highs?