What happened to Yahoo's CEO?
Perhaps the most high-profile name to vanish from this year’s Most Powerful Women list is that of Marissa Mayer. Mayer has been a staple of the Fortune list since 2008, first as a Google exec and then, starting in 2012, as president and CEO of Yahoo.
To say that Mayer, now 41, has had a tumultuous year is an understatement. Amid massive revenue and income losses in 2015—and a turnaround strategy that was becoming harder and harder to defend—activist investor Starboard Value launched a campaign against Mayer and Yahoo’s board late last year, pushing to scrap her future plans for Yahoo and disband the company.
The company’s 2015 fourth quarter numbers, reported in January, drove the proverbial nail into Yahoo’s coffin: The struggling company reported a staggering $4.4 billion in losses for the last three months of 2015.
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To be fair, Mayer wasn’t handed a healthy company back in 2012 when she left her former employer, Google, for the top spot at Yahoo. As she told Fortune‘s Pattie Sellers after her new job was announced in July 2012, “there’s a lot of work to do.”
But Mayer’s plan for a Yahoo turnaround required capital—a lot of capital—which didn’t please Wall Street. Despite multiple rounds of layoffs, Yahoo added nearly 3,000 workers through acquisitions, though many of these entrepreneurs have since left the company. One of the priciest deals was the acquisition of Tumblr, the blogging site it bought for $1 billion in 2013—$482 million of which Yahoo was forced to write down earlier this year. Yahoo also bought shopping site Polyvore for more than $160 million, a deal many criticized for being overvalued.
And those aren’t the only costs that raised investors’ eyebrows. Yahoo paid $20 million for the rights to the National Football League’s first streaming-only game broadcast, which received mixed reviews. The company reportedly spent $7 million on a holiday party in December 2014, and $3 million to sponsor the Met Ball, an annual gathering of celebrities and fashion industry insiders. Mayer disputed some of these cost figures on a 2015 earnings call, calling them “blatant falsehoods.” She said the holiday party number was “exaggerated by more than a factor of three,” adding: “Our holiday parties globally cost approximately $150 per invited attendee.” Nevertheless, in Wall Street’s eyes, she was done.
In July, Mayer inked a deal to sell the company’s core internet assets to Verizon for $4.83 billion in cash, a far cry from some of the loftier estimates, which pegged Yahoo’s value at up to $8 billion. Most of Yahoo’s $37.4 billion market value comes from its 15% stake in Chinese online commerce company Alibaba and 35% stake in Yahoo Japan, neither of which are included in the deal. It’s unclear what will happen with these assets once the deal with Verizon closes in early 2017.
So what’s next for Mayer? She has said that she will remain with Yahoo through the end of the sale process, but whether or not she will then stay on at Verizon is an open question. She might choose to leave—perhaps to become a VC or start her own company—or Yahoo’s new owner may decide to send her packing. Either way, Mayer would walk away a very well compensated woman: Her golden parachute has been estimated at roughly $55 million. There are definitely worse ways to go.
Editor’s Note: This story has been corrected to reflect the fact that Yahoo’s streaming-only broadcast of the NFL game received mixed reviews; a previous version of the story referred to it as a disaster. The article has also been updated with additional Yahoo comment on the cost of its holiday parties.