Marissa to the Rescue!

If you have read many of my daily business commentaries – I don’t call them “blogs” any more, as I was told it undervalued them – you will know my prejudice for young CEO’s, particularly for businesses that have to succeed online. It has to be said though that in Yahoo’s case, the appointment of 37 year old Marissa Mayer, has only come about after the company has had four other CEO’s in the past four years; none of whom seeming to know what to do to save it from ignominious dissipation.

Marissa has a great reputation, built in a rapidly growing business, but she is joining a business that has lost its way: its two primary assets being cash flow momentum and a stable audience, for now at least, although its core mail audience is now beginning to decline. Others have overtaken it and what is called for here is some radical surgery if it has any chance at all of surviving as a stand alone business. Although a leader once Yahoo is a follower now and it is following some pretty big beasts that are in control of a lot of the internet savannah where Yahoo used to roam free. At best, Yahoo is now destined to be a niche player but it doesn’t know which niche to focus on and is hoping that Google insider Marissa (employee #20), with product engineering experience, may be able to make sense of it all for them.

Well, like a lot of these things the “what” is pretty easy really – Yahoo needs a focus. Marissa knows what Google is best at and what it will prioritise so I’d leave that alone. I’d then work out what‘s left and how to reposition Yahoo distinctively in that space.  She can then product-innovate as much as she wants to deliver meaningful benefits to clients. It will mean stopping a lot of stuff though and refocusing and so the famed female relationship skills will be called on somewhat, not least of which with the man who she replaces and the insider who was tipped for the job. Whilst the ”what” is relatively straightforward the “how” is in the almost impossible category, that’s why so few big businesses, that are overtaken by competitors, actually survive in the end.

In my book, Young and Clever + Internet Business = Good, but Massive Restructuring + Only Managed Rapid Growth Before = Bad, so Marissa is going to have her work cut out in Yahoo. I personally don’t buy the idea that she can just launch some new products and save Yahoo. If she is to succeed she will need to be aware of the limits of her own personal experience and bring in folk who have had a go at such a difficult task as this before, if she can find any. She will only succeed if she is a truly exceptional leader; her product engineering competences are secondary in my book. Sadly though, great business leaders are few and far between; most executive management having fairly tame roles, with nothing like the difficulties that Marissa faces: Henry V had an easier challenge.

I think the most likely outcome is that Microsoft, or another competitor, will get its hands on Yahoo at last after it has been tidied up some. It may survive as an independent business if Marissa can slim it down, focus it more and position it differently from the competition, but that is a very tall order indeed. The next most likely outcome is that Marissa will hang around long enough to rearrange the deckchairs a bit and then leave the Yahoo ship to continue to slowly sink beneath the waves with yet another forlorn Captain standing to attention on the bridge.


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