Can Yahoo's new CEO turn the company around?

The struggling internet giant poaches a top executive from rival Google, but doubts linger that anyone can revive Yahoo's fortunes

By Jul 18, 2012 4:40PM

This week, Yahoo (YHOO) announced that Google executive Marissa Mayer, 37, would be Yahoo's new CEO, a move that is being hailed as a"surprising coup" for the struggling internet company, which for many years has been fighting a losing battle against Google (GOOG) and Facebook (FB) for online ad dollars. Mayer was Google's 20th employee and first female engineer, and oversaw some of its most popular products, including its eponymous search engine, Gmail, Google News, Google Images, and Google Maps. Mayer is a trailblazing advocate for breaking the glass ceiling in corporate America (and also happens to be pregnant), and is widely seen as a high-profile personality who can capture the attention of the media and investors alike. However, she'll face no shortage of obstacles at Yahoo, which has burned through four full-time CEOs in five years. 

Can Mayer turn things around?

Yes. She's the best choice for the job: It's hard to "think of anyone who'd clearly be a better choice" than Mayer, says Harry McCracken at TIME. "She played a key role in making Google into…Google," which speaks volumes. Yahoo, which outsourced its search engine to Microsoft in 2009, has been in an identity crisis for years, and Mayer must accomplish what her predecessors failed to do: Articulate a vision for what Yahoo will become. Mayer's "obvious smarts and impressive resume" make her an excellent choice to lead the company into the future. 


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And she embodies Google's culture of success: Mayer pioneered Google's practice of ensuring that its products "are fast, functional, and continually tested and improved as time goes on," says Rafe Needleman at CNET. "Mayer will likely bring this same rigor to Yahoo's products, in particular, the home page, Yahoo's portal to the web." Google has also been "very good at working on long-term visions," and is famous for its "engineering-friendly culture of experimentation," two invaluable factors that Mayer can bring to Yahoo. Expect Mayer to "play some long-range bets and recruit some top talent back into the Yahoo fold." 


No. Yahoo's problems are too big: As Yahoo's email service "slowly dwindles, and as desktop web browsing loses out to mobile devices, Yahoo's continuing slide seems inevitable," says The Wall Street Journal in an editorial. And it's hard to see how Mayer's experience at Google can help her at Yahoo. Mayer headed Google's search engine, "which now doesn't seem relevant considering Yahoo has outsourced its search function." Mayer famously helped design Google's iconic home page, but "a search box on a white background won't help Yahoo." Kudos to Yahoo for trying, but the company will likely remain a "symbol of Silicon Valley stagnation." 


And Mayer has no media experience: "Yahoo was (is? who knows anymore?) trying to turn itself into a media company following the departure" of its last full-time CEO, Scott Thompson, says Chris Ciaccia at The Street. If Yahoo still wants to be a media company, it would have been better off with interim CEO Ross Levinsohn, who "had a track record and would have been the perfect candidate for the job." Instead, Yahoo went with Mayer, who has no media experience. It's hard not to feel "that this is another in a long line of mistakes from" Yahoo. 


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