Is Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer a failure? Or was she just handed a Sisyphean task?
“Both,” says Aswath Damodaran, professor at New York University’s Stern School of Business. “She was given the impossible job (of turning around the troubled Internet pioneer). But at the same time, she took it on, said she would change things, and failed.”
As Yahoo’s dismantling proceeds — Verizon is still on track to buy its digital assets for $4.8 billion while the remaining Alibaba-invested company gets renamed Altbaba — questions arise about both the tenure and future of the Google-trained white knight that had promised to ride to the rescue.
On the one hand, under Mayer, 41, Yahoo stock soared 180% since she was named CEO in 2012, from $15 to $42.
“If my broker could do that for me every time, I’d call him a genius,” says Michael McDermott, professor of business management at Georgetown University’sMcDonough School of Business. “Given a very difficult if not impossible situation, I’d say she did OK.”
Mayer was in many ways brought in to right a sinking ship. She was Yahoo’s seventh CEO, a list that included former Warner Bros. executive Terry Semel “who couldn’t even be bothered to move to Silicon Valley from Los Angeles for the job,” says Paul Saffo, longtime tech-world observer and forecaster.
“The company was in such chaotic shape (when Mayer joined) that you would have needed someone with the temperament and intuition of Steve Jobs to even have a chance at a turnaround,” Saffo says. “Her biggest mistake might have been taking the job. It was a suicide mission.”
But on the other hand, everything from repeated hacking scandals, ill-advised acquisitions such as the $1.1-billion purchase of social media site Tumblr and high-salary but underutilized hires such as Katie Couric and former New York Times tech columnist David Pogue all point to a spotty chief executive tenure that could stain Mayer’s resume.