One year in: Mayer's smartest moves as Yahoo CEO

Faith Merino · July 16, 2013 · Short URL:

It's Marissa Mayer's one-year anniversary as Yahoo CEO. What has she done in the last year? A lot.

Happy anniversary, everybody!

…What do you mean you forgot our anniversary? I wrote it on the calendar on the fridge. I asked you a damn week ago what you wanted to do to celebrate! You said you wanted to go rock climbing followed by dinner at La Boheme!

I kid. It’s not our anniversary. It’s Marissa Mayer’s one-year anniversary at Yahoo. One year ago today, Yahoo shocked the world by announcing it was installing Google’s first female engineer, Marissa Mayer, as its new (fifth) CEO. Since then, Mayer has been credited with turning around Yahoo’s three-year revenue losing streak. Yahoo is scheduled to release its Q2 2013 earnings report Tuesday afternoon, but in the last earnings call back in April, earnings per share were up to $0.38, compared to $0.27 in the same quarter a year ago. And revenue has been climbing slightly—enough to show that it’s not sliding backwards as it was under the past several CEOs.

To be fair, it’s not 100% the Marissa Mayer Effect. At the same time Mayer was being installed as CEO, Yahoo’s board had just made the decision to sell half of its Alibaba holdings, which gave Yahoo $7.6 billion to work with. And Yahoo still owns another 24% of Alibaba, which is expected to go public some time next year, at which point Yahoo will see a pretty hefty windfall.

What Mayer did with the cash

That being said, what Mayer has done with the money from the sale of Yahoo’s Alibaba holdings has done much to get the company back on the right track. In the last year she has driven the acquisition of 17 companies, including Summly for $30 million, Xobni for $48 million, and Qwiki for $50 million. And of course, the biggie, Tumblr, for $1.1 billion—Yahoo’s biggest acquisition in 14 years. The acquisitions have been significant because they’ve all been in mobile and social. The Tumblr acquisition is particularly significant because it puts Yahoo right in front of the eyeballs of the teen crowd—the group that is known for driving the latest trends. Mayer is essentially revamping Yahoo and the Yahoo brand as a mobile/social innovator.

Speaking of revamping, Mayer has orchestrated the redesign of several critical Yahoo products, including:


Shortly after announcing its Tumblr acquisition, Yahoo announced its new update to photo-sharing app Flickr. It was a smart move, since many Tumblr users were fearful that Yahoo would turn Tumblr into another Flickr, which languished following its acquisition by Yahoo in 2005. The new update came with a redesigned homepage and activity feed, a new Android app, and one terabyte of storage space for each user. The most recent update in May follows an update in December, at which time Yahoo made it more social by allowing users to post on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and email. The takeaway: Mayer and Yahoo are not going to leave Flickr to rot in the corner any longer. Two updates in six months proves to younger users that Flickr will not become old tech.

The Homepage

A big part of updating the Yahoo brand means updating the most visible part of Yahoo: its homepage. In February, the company unveiled its new homepage, which is now more social and personalized. Now users can log in via Facebook and see birthday reminders and articles that their friends have read. The homepage was also optimized for smartphones and tablets, because duh.

Yahoo News

Following the revamp of the homepage, Yahoo updated one of its biggest attractions: Yahoo News. In May, more people got their news from Yahoo than any other online news source, according to comScore. The combined Yahoo-ABC News Network reached 89 million people that month alone, making Yahoo News one of the company’s biggest draws. To keep up the momentum, Yahoo updated the News page to make it more personalized. Now, When you sign in with your Yahoo ID and read the news, the site learns your preferences and personalizes your newsfeed. And the more you use it, the more precisely personalized it will become.   

Yahoo Mail

In April, Yahoo teamed up with Dropbox to allow Yahoo users to access their Dropbox right from their inbox. Now, Yahoo Mail users can add files from Dropbox to any email and save attachments back to Dropbox. And file restrictions are gone. Previously, users were limited to 25 megabytes. Why is this a big deal? Because Gmail, the most popular email service, has a 25MB file restriction. Yahoo is the third largest email service behind Google and Microsoft. Once upon a time, Yahoo Mail was the largest mail service, but over the years, its users have jumped ship for Hotmail and Gmail.

Killing telecommuting

Revamps aside, Marissa Mayer made one particularly controversial move—one that stirred up a lot of anger among parents: she put an end to telecommuting at Yahoo. Many Yahoo employees—namely those who joined the company with the understanding that they would be able to work from home—were understandably upset. But it was a move Mayer had to make in order to solidify Yahoo’s culture. There are offices and workplaces that are being built specifically so that remote workers can collaborate and get inspiration from one another.

“Some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussions, meeting new people, and impromptu team meetings,” wrote Mayer in a memo.

It wasn’t a popular move, but it was one that will have long-term impacts on Yahoo’s corporate culture. And if there’s one thing Marissa Mayer has set her eye to, it’s the long term. 

What's on the horizon?

Yahoo has been rumored to be involved in a few different talks, some of which haven't panned out, and others that remain unconfirmed. For a while there, Yahoo was rumored to be considering a $600-$800 million bid on Hulu. It obviously didn't work out because Hulu's owners decided not to sell, but the fact that Yahoo has its eye on streaming movies and television means the company is looking to infiltrate users' living rooms. 

I wouldn't be surprised if Yahoo ended up acquiring a streaming content service because it's clear Mayer isn't just trying to get Yahoo on its feet; she aims to turn Yahoo into a large-scale consumer Web company on par with Amazon and Google. 


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