4 things new CEO Marissa Mayer can do to fix Yahoo

The former Googler has an impressive resume as one of Silicon Valley's foremost engineers and managers, but can she save the struggling company?

By TheWeek.com Jul 25, 2012 10:09AM

Yahoo's (YHOO) new CEO Marissa Mayer is not facing an easy road as she takes on an ailing company. But the 37-year-old former Google (GOOG) exec differs from predecessors like Scott Thompson and Carol Bartz in that she seems to have a large slice of the tech world rooting for her success.

Her hiring was praised as a "surprising coup" for Yahoo, since Mayer oversaw the development of some of Google's most popular products, including search, Gmail, Google News, Google Images, and Google Maps. Though Yahoo has seen revenue growth stall as more users migrate to other sites like Facebook, Mayer can take a number of incremental steps to improve the legendary web company. 


Here are four suggestions:


1. Fix Flickr

Despite flatlining revenue, photo-sharing site Flickr remains one of Yahoo's most popular products. "Flickr was one of the hippest sites on the Internet," says Chenda Ngak at CBS News, a "home to professional photographers, hipsters, and burgeoning hobbyists." But the site began losing steam in 2008, as its rate of innovation began to lag behind the rest of the web and users started jumping ship.

On a new site called DearMarissaMayer.com, diehard Flickr users make a direct appeal to the new CEO: "Dear Marissa Mayer, Please make Flickr awesome again. <3 the Internet." Flickr, in a surprisingly savvy move, wrote back: "Dear Internet, Thanks! Come help us make Flickr awesome," with a link to the service's jobs site.

"Flickr still has a hell of a lot of work ahead," says Mat Honan at Wired, but "this little tongue-in-cheek response made me very happy...." It might even be a sign of good things to come.


2. Cut useless services while developing new products

To make Yahoo relevant again, Mayer needs to do two things that require "vastly different management skills simultaneously," says Richard Waters at the Financial Times: "Restructure the company's core Web 1.0 business while at the same time putting it back on the disruptive, leading edge of internet development." Of course, that's easier said than done with a company as large and clunky as Yahoo, but Mayer has a record of juggling multiple tasks.

As Google's most prominent female engineer with 13 years of experience under her belt, she's certainly up for the gig, and may want to shift focus to the company's "strong franchises," says The New York Times, which, in addition to Flickr, include e-mail, finance, and sports.


3. Acquire top talent

One of Mayer's most crucial tasks will be "hiring great managers and product people," says Steven Levy at Wired. Luckily she has a "secret weapon" to attract Silicon Valley's brightest.

Over at Google, she invented and subsequently ran a program misleadingly called the "Associate Product Manager" (APM), which she used to handpick the best under-the-radar talent. APM is essentially an "incubation system for tech rock stars." Google would hire new computer science grads who also had "social finesse and business sense" to become in-house entrepreneurs.

For Google, the program has more than paid off: Mayer has had a direct hand in helping over 300 of the most talented people in Silicon Valley launch their careers. Many were instrumental in developing products like Google's Chrome, Google Analytics, Google Toolbar, and Google Voice, and have gone on to other companies like Facebook and Dropbox. Mayer can leverage these relationships, or even institute a similar program at Yahoo.


4. Boost morale

Employees venting on job review site Glassdoor say one of Mayer's bigger goals should be to boost employee morale. In the past few months, just 48% of current Yahoo employees felt their company's outlook was going to get better; for Google employees, the rate is closer to 98%. Unfortunately, she'll have to do "massive cost-cutting," says the Financial Times' Waters. "If she is to avoid the perennial overhauls that have left staff downtrodden and demoralized… then it should happen quickly."

On the bright side, "Yahoo finally has someone who has both business acumen and geek cred at the helm," says Chris Sacca, a venture capitalist who worked with Mayer at Google. "She stands for a work hard/play hard, product- and engineering-driven culture, and Yahoo has been missing that for years." Employees are optimistic for the first time in a long time.


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