5 things Yahoo's Mayer can learn from Steve Jobs

The Apple co-founder left a blueprint on how to turn around a tech company. Will Yahoo's new CEO make similar moves?

By MSN Money Partner Jul 19, 2012 1:42PM

By Therese Poletti

 

MarketWatchIt is a rare tech company that can make a comeback.

 

And it's nearly impossible for an Internet company. It may take awhile, but when it looks like the innovation is gone and the geeks in Silicon Valley declare you are done, they're usually right.

 

The two most impressive tech turnarounds in the last two decades have been at International Business Machines (IBM) and Apple (AAPL) both previously known mostly as computer makers.

 

But among Internet companies, there are more dead than survivors. Take note, Yahoo (YHOO).

So Marissa Mayer, formerly a well-regarded Google (GOOG) executive, is facing an imposing challenge as Yahoo's chief executive. She lacks CEO experience and will be working under a microscope as she tries to save Yahoo and its tattered brand.

 

Post continues below.

 

 

Unlike our naysaying MarketWatch colleague Jon Friedman, who believes there is no hope for Yahoo, Tech Tales thinks Yahoo is an Internet company that could be revived. And Mayer, a rare woman engineer who is also young, charismatic and respected, could be the one to do it. Read Friedman's negative take on Yahoo.

 

Because Mayer can't consult with the late Apple co-founder, Steve Jobs, who orchestrated one of the greatest turnarounds in the Valley, we have compiled a few tips that might help.

 

1) Review all of Yahoo's product lines with a brutal and unsentimental eye. And don't be afraid to kill products that are not profitable or have too long a horizon to become something. Time is of the essence. Upon returning to the company in 1997, Jobs narrowed Apple's focus to four product areas: consumer, professional, desktop, portable, before eventually embarking on new arenas, such as digital music, smartphones and tablets.

 

2) After getting Yahoo focused on its core strengths, unleash a marketing campaign to tell consumers and partners about them. For years, each new Yahoo CEO has had a muddled answer to what Yahoo really is. If Mayer can determine how to truly enunciate Yahoo's mission, she might want to develop an ad campaign that would resonate with consumers, much like Apple's "Think Different" ads told people what Apple was all about, without showing a single product.

 

And don't fall into the trap that former Hewlett-Packard Co. CEO Carly Fiorina did, by putting herself in the ads, a major misfire. The mantra of re-invention at HP (HPQ) was marred when Fiorina became the face of an ad campaign, speaking in front of a mock-up of the fabled HP garage, a move that was widely derided in the Valley.

 

3) Stop the leaks from inside Yahoo. Jobs was known for endorsing the view that "loose lips sink ships" and fostered a culture of super secrecy, often firing those who spoke to the press out of turn. While we in the media love leakers, this can be viewed as an act of disloyalty and it can also be a way to find out who isn't on your side.

 

4) Go with your gut instincts, as Jobs always did. Perhaps that will lead to a re-evaluation of the cluttered Yahoo home page. Even though the company has gone through a few redesigns, Yahoo.com still looks as messy as ever. Mayer's focus on user interface and the influence of Google's clean look will hopefully spill over to Yahoo. Ugh.

 

While she is taking stock of the home page, she should get rid of some of the site's horrible content. One small idea would be to replace some of Yahoo's celebrity fawning omg! content with sharper, snarkier writers, such as the popular bloggers Tom and Lorenzo, for example. You know what to do, darlings.

 

5) Find some stars within Yahoo, and get them to stay. Find others from outside and recruit them. Just as Jobs persuaded star designer Jony Ive to stay at Apple and recruited Tim Cook to be its operations chief, Mayer needs to find the star engineers, web designers and algorithm geeks inside Yahoo, and persuade new recruits to believe in the mission. And from there, hopefully product innovation will occur.

 

While Mayer has a few things on her side, such as her engineering background, her achievements at Google and her product management skills, Mayer has never run a big company. It's going to be a tough job.

 

But she has a chance in a lifetime to reinvigorate a company that many are still rooting for. Perhaps she can take parts of Jobs's recipes at Apple, and make them her own.

 

Therese Poletti is a senior columnist for MarketWatch in San Francisco.

 

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