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Marissa Mayer's 3 biggest decisions as Yahoo CEO

December 18, 2019 20:04 PM UTC
- Updated February 18, 2020 16:19 PM UTC

With company stock up over 100% since she began running the company 16 months ago, Mayer reflects on her choices to date.

Welcome back, Marissa. Thanks for having Morris has been to the most powerful women's summit many times. As many of you recall last year, Marissa was not here because the Callister Bogue was born the day before the women's summit started last year. True, eventful Sunday night. So now, now Marissa is kind of amazing. You are number eight on the most powerful women's summit. Thank you for that. You're number one on our 40 under 40 list, which came out a few weeks ago, and you're a Fortune 500 CEO. That trifecta it wasn't the Andy has sent me a note saying There's an interesting try effective about to happen and it's really it's flattering. But I mean, I think a lot of it has to do with Yahoo on the opportunity that's there. It has had we would not have put you at number eight on the most powerful women list, or at number one on 40 under 40 if the turnaround at Yahoo Yahoo so far and I realize that it's a work in progress. But it does appear a TTE this point to be for riel. The stock is up over 100% since Marisa started in the job into life 2012. Andi, I think most of the people in this audience know that this is after Ah, whole lot of smart people tried to turn Yahoo around. And this has happened under a CEO who actually had never had never run CNL before in her career at Google. Not like that, because I've actually know that in stories. And I mean, Google was organized functionally, but we had, you know, I mean, the realty know is, you know, for the company, But inside of Google, the different product groups have piano. So your local and location business that you were running at Google until you were recruited for the Yahoo job in 2012 you actually had a a p and l that you were judged on. Okay, good to have that correction. Good to have. So you would never run up. Certainly never run a public company. You had. You know, you enjoined you a joined Google when it was very, very tiny. I remember you telling me about Sergei and Larry interviewing you over a ping pong table in a makeshift office. And she had, you know, like 13 job possible are normally it was the height of the first boom. Ryan, 1999 is a good year to be a graduate in computer science, So Google was the only place you worked. But what if you what if he really had no learn on the job at Yahoo? What has been the steepest learning curve? I think you know, a fellow hello CEO had to me that the interesting thing about being CEO that's really striking is exactly that you have very few decisions that you need to make, and you need to make them absolutely, perfectly. And the point really waas that you can delegate a lot of the decisions, but there are a few decisions. And, um, it's not obvious that you need to really watch and that they can really influence the outcome. And that's something watching for those decisions every day, wondering yourself, Is this one of them, or is this one where you know it doesn't really matter what the decision ends up being? So if you had to name and I'm gonna ask you to name three decisions that you have made that are the most important in the 15 16 months since you've been CEO. What are they? I think that the company's commitment to mobile is probably the biggest one. I've sounds funny, but when I got there, we were still issuing BlackBerries. Every every employee BlackBerry is a great product and really useful. But I think that yeah, whose future is going to be rooted in mobile app, and we know that we need to have APS on from the core platform. So IOS and Android, how did the two most important platform for us We obviously have you three smart bones to everybody in the company right now? I mean, they're they're becoming issues smartphones, but but it was really important for people to be able to experience our products. We call it we call it dog food ing where people try the products and give us feedback. Calming doesn't eat your own dog food, right? So what makes this stuff and then me? Then we use it every day, and so I think that was really, really important. I think that Yeah, I'll just group that has a lot of decisions. But the collective decisions around the team and for me, the team is incredibly important. And so everything from getting the right people in as c. M. O. And I actually met my chemo. Kathy, stab it at this conference, I think, two years ago. But bringing in Kathy is my CMO. Jackie Reese is our chief development officer. Kind of my CFO, Enrique and my CEO and then tremendous product leads, um, of all, going the company, recruiting it done here today we have hired 1000 engineers we've hired on. I think now we're head were edging up about 60 world class computer science Ph. D's as we rebuild yahoo loud. That's incredibly important. Um, and the barista reported earnings the other day, and, uh, you know, kudos to you for getting here. I mean, you jumped on a plane after you reported earnings. So thank you for that. And I think you said in the earnings report that you got 17,000 resumes in the last quarter. We did. We actually, we celebrated in September because you're like, Well, we got 12,000 resumes, basically a resume for every single person who works. Yeah, it basically means that having demand it is that we got a resume for every job that we have in the company each week, and then we also have seen a spike since 9 11 17,000 and that's it from 2000 in January, freezing and a tax increase in the number of people who want to come and work in Yahoo, which is just tremendous. So one more decision, What's what's the third important decision? I think the third important decision is probably Tumbler. I think that decision to do a large acquisition that's not yet a creative overall, it was a really big bet in terms of what's happening with that platform was happening with creative expression on the Web on and how people are gonna choose to connect and express themselves in the future. So Tumbler is the largest of your 24 acquisitions that you've made. 1.1 billion was the cost of the acquisition. What is your overall strategy with actress in terms of your acquisition strategy and why Tumbler for I mean, I think the doctor is now his own story as to why we've done it. There have been some of them in pure talent acquisitions stamped with our purse acquisition group of 10 people. Someone I've known previously and was running a great company. They were doing this kind of four square for things where you checked in and punch the things that you like had had a great run of it, had a lot, had a fair number of users but just really hadn't hit the tipping point that they had wanted. And I said, OK, you're a great group of 10 people, you know, design, mobile, app, build mobile app. The app was beautifully designed and I said, Would you mind abandoning Iraq and coming here and working on something different on? And it was really hard decision for that team, but they ultimately decided that they would do it like we like working together. It is true. Our application hasn't really gone where it's supposed to go in. Terms of users were happy with where we are, but way we're not gonna be Facebook, Twitter foursquare. And so they decided to stop work and what they were doing, and they came to Yahoo and build mobile versions of Yahoo screen. So that's an exact a good example of true Akwa higher or it can be called talent acquisition. Yeah, but the idea there is you know, they came in. They built a beautiful, bizarre new video platform that we launched in September on with the nicest players in the industry. And it really has has Saturday Night Live Comedy Central, all kinds of great clips, NBC sports, uh, really excited Yahoo screen, and that would have happened. But we live. We took the team and said, Okay, all 10 of you come over here, retreat your friends, They actually recruited their friends or not, like, 20 or 25 build the mobile version of our video operation there in the orchid. I did a great job. There's a talent acquisition. We've also seen town acquisitions with technology attached. So we bought a company called Suddenly Got a lot of attention because the founder of 17 years old and so we have to call his mother and asked him sometimes for permission. And it's based in England, hastening. Nobody comes to Silicon Valley a lot. And so he was a talent acquisition is funny because he came in his memorization technology. We looked at him. You're like is a farina. What technology? Memorization. What is that? He takes long form content and summarizes it down, which is perfect for mobile. So you know who we have? Lots of articles. We have lots of content. We need to summarize them and get it on the phone. Uh, some of the articles and get them on phones. And we looked the woman came and I was like, Really? Are we really gonna buy? I think at the time, your 16 year old, like a 16 year old company, I mean literally rolled out. Yahoo Lab's got our best artificial intelligence engineers. Andi scientists on it. They looked at more than a dozen memorization companies around the world, and they were like, Honestly, it's legit. His is about based on technology from S R. I on. He had worked with a great had assembled in this group of engineers from all over the world to work on the technology they had managed the license out of us are eye and he's a great job. But we brought that in within three weeks. We had it integrated into the yahoo up on phones we paid. I didn't mean anything in the past immigration I've ever seen of it of an acquisition. And now Nick is working on all kinds of interesting projects all over the company, Which is and is he in school? He's in school. Is he in high school? He's in high school. So the funny thing is like, people were really upset when we bought it because they said, Well, what is this business about the founder leaving in 18 months like I gotta go? I Maybe he'll still interned. Stick around. I think he will. He's having a good time, but he's having a good time. He's been a great contributor so far, but they are going to take some time to let him go and get his education. Tumbler, Here's another case of a company that was started by a guy Really young age. David Karp. How did you come? What was the what? What? What was the big selling point on Tumblr? White Tumbler? And what have you learned from David Carr? Sure. Um so I think that Tumbler, when we looked at it, there were It was almost, you know, I love map. I've worked a lot on maps when I was like Google, and if you look a tumbler and Yahoo when you look at a map and you can see the way that South America and Africa used together. I said a joke like we got to know Tumbler were like it kind of. We kind of felt like those cotton, like our users were older. Their users were younger. We're really good at hard news, sports and finance. They're great at art, architecture, travel, food, right? They I mean, it was really amazing in terms of how the company's overall really fit together. They need a great surgeon, great discovery. We had that. What we need is great content. They really fit together nicely. And there are a lot of obvious things that just came together. And David will talk about time. We're both as the home home of the world's creators, which is a mission that we really, really loved, but also as a home for brands. This notion that I'm tumbling, a lot of people hosts are websites. They're both brands, like The Daily Show has. Their entire blogger on tumbler as a publishing platform was also pay for people just go and post, for example, there are portfolio or their blogger for the day, and so it's really interesting. There's new brands, people who are trying to build themselves up his online personalities. There's also all kinds of interesting brand expression going on there. But David Karp is just incredibly special. He is. You know, I like to think that I'm gonna empathy, but I will say that David Karp is incredibly empathetic and really in tune with the community of people you have that are contributing and creating on Tumbler. And he has a certain respect for that community in that he does not want advertising on his site. And yet he doesn't know what he wants. He wants advertising that that adds to the user experience. How are you gonna monetize Tumbler? I think that the we have a lot of ideas and they actually have. They are accepting advertisements today on Dhe. They've been doing that. They've been working on monetization now for about 3/4. Okay, so they're just getting started. But it's a great platform, and we have a lot of advertiser interest because of that form, is so expressive and does a lot of creative ideas. I know. For example, when the game, when the movie the Hunger Games came out, uh, they actually published a lot of fashion on Tumbler. They published a fashion log of called Capital Coach. Sure of what the different people in the in the movie war just sort of. You know, I'm really participate in the community on the subject matter that they care a lot about. So it's really interesting to see how brands were using it to build interesting offline content that adds to the overall message. Marissa, I want to talk about culture. I want to talk about a couple of the building blocks of, um, your challenge to transform the culture at Yahoo. Um, you've made a number of big changes, and the challenge is not only aligning, what is it? 13,000 people 12. 12,000 people but aligning 12,000 people who were pretty demoralized when you came in. And, um, aligning 12,000 people who are absorbing people from 24 acquisition. So what are a couple of those building blocks? Those things you've changed to transform the culture, but I think I'll start off with an overall philosophy. Actually, two of them, um, Eric Schmidt from Google is one of my one of my favorite mentors, and Eric would always say this very humbling thing that's really true. Which is, he said he would say good executives confuse themselves when they convince themselves that they actually do things. And he was like, Look, it's your job as leadership to be defense. Not often write. The team decides we're running in this direction and it's your job to clear the path, get things out of the way, Get the obstacles out of the way, make it fast to make decisions on, let them run as far and fast as you possibly can. And I think that when I came in, people were like, Well, what's our strategy now? I was like, I don't know. You tell me like I know you've been here longer than I have in there like really like we get to give our ideas. No. One. I really had some employees that no one's ever asked us for our ideas before on, and it was really my Peter a lot of pent up energy people like, Is it time to go now? Are we ready to go now? I think that was really important. I think I've always thought of culture as D. N. A. I don't know a lot about genetics But I understand some of it, and I think that what you really want are the genes that are positive toe hyper express themselves and culture. Take the elements of fun. Take the elements that are really motivating, inspiring people and amplify them and ramp them up and take some of the negative genes that are getting in the way and cut him off and find it and figure out what's causing those and took them off. It's not about injecting new mutant Vienna, right. It's not about changing the culture. It's about making the culture of the best version of itself. And so everything from you know, one thing's yahoos really has always excelled in is content generation. One thing has always really held. It is technology and really helping to build the strength. There is something that that I'm excited about, but I also think that to some extent, the negative expression of DNA when you see hey, things are getting in people's way. How can you turn some of that? Some of those off? So how do you facilitate those good genes? Thio operate better. And how do you clear the past? I mean, one of the things that you've changed I know is gold setting in the company. Explain that there's gold setting. We've also done things like quarterly calibration, but one of the things it sounds funny. But when I first got there, everyone had to me, there's 1000 things you need sex, and I mean, that's really overwhelming. When people come and say that to you, you know, you're like, How am I gonna fix 1000 things? And so we came up with this idea. We have a moderator tool where people can vote on things and we came up with the yearly process in the way there's bureaucracy in the way. We just stuff kind of jamming up the system and people would come to them. They say, You know, I know the answer. I know the solution. I just need someone to tell me it's okay to do it. It would be like by all means, it's okay, Please do it And we said, Well, how come me harness that energy and we give this process called P D and Jay process bureaucracy and jams where you can go and you can write up something that's just getting in the way in the company. It could be big. Like, you know, my laptop is woefully underpowered for the job that I'm being asked to do because we end up refreshing everyone's laptop and getting all new all new equipment in that way. But or it could be small. It could be like, Why does the gym ask us? Have orientation when, like every hotel in the world that you go and stand on the treadmill without a learning session? And so, um, maybe people started doing this, and then other people come and vote on it. I think something is more than 50. Yes, vote. We sit down with a member of the staff executive staff that it would be the number overseas it, and they clean out their PB and J on a quarterly basis that has more than 50 votes, and P and J just turned in your old in September. It's been completely embraced by the culture of people who love reporting. These things were kind of in the way and kind of annoying him on this notion that if you report it and it gets on a boat, it's going to get it fixed. It's going to get a dress. Um really empowers people. They finished 1000 things in the first year, and I joke. I mean, I told this joke and are are all team on Friday and like, it's so funny because all of you came up to me and said, There's 1000 things perfect And the truth is there are thousands of suspects. We're not done, But But I was like, Wow, like they fixed 1000 things and and how did they run big? Some small, but it's really, really amazed. And how and how are people who held accountable for fixing those things get more than 50 bucks because they wanted their several can see Hey, like this is on the top of your PB and J list. There's a real transparency. There's really public accountability for it, but the other thing is we have a small team of five or six people that work on PB and J on. So there you go and meet with the team. But those five or six people can't do 1000 things. The rial testimony and the rial learning lesson here is that by empowering people in the company to fix what they knew was broken. They're like, Oh, are we fixing? Things will be changing things because, like, I've got some stuff I wanna fix. I've got some stuff I want to change. They really grab, grab the opportunity. That's great. Our time is supposedly up. But you know what? We hold the power here. We're gonna take two questions from the audience who has a question for Marissa. Yes. Identify yourself, please. Uh, could we have another Mike? Is that working? I am in need of treatment, the CFO of the Carlyle Group and one of the more controversial that made presently that you made that you tied it on this issue like time and working from home. And it's interesting, because at our firm, we have the opposite problem with their culture of it. You're not here, you're not working. And and as I've had a younger and younger group of employees and frankly, a little bit, many baby birds, it's creating issues at work like sound. So I'd like to try to understand what was your rationale for what was the actual decision may have gotten blown out of proportion. What was the rationale? Your attention and Are you still happy? Did it? Sure. Um So our rationale is that this is Yahoo's all hands on deck moment and I fully accept a lot of people said, Well, wait, people are more productive when they work on their own. I fully accept up, but what they aren't is more collaborative. And when you need to innovate, you need collaboration. So when I look at things like Yahoo's weather app, which I hope a lot of people have on their phones um you know, I think. But would you see? There is Our weather team met up with the flicker team and they said flickers had developed a geo take photos and the weather teams in here, we need to make weather beautiful, and they brought it together. And now you see these postcards Ah, beautiful photography from all over the world. When you look at the weather of the actual weather pattern that you're seeing in that city, that day is really quite remarkable. That wouldn't happen. Yeah, you happen to get two people ran into each other in the break room and got to talking. That doesn't happen when you're about yourself in the kitchen, but I think that I think of the collaboration piece is really what ultimately motivated it for us. I think it did get blown out of proportion. I think, um, you know, I've been told I try that sort of a void and say blind some of the media here but the, um just in general. But the I think that when I got blown out of proportion with people, felt like it was a very gender charge decision on In truth, it was about 100 people in the company's. It was reasonably small, and actually 80 to 85% of them were men. And so it really didn't. It wasn't something that it affected a lot of women, but the thing that we really wanted to get our hands around waas the notion of the official work from Homer's and by the way we made we made a fair number of exceptions for exactly the work life balance, reasons that that, you know, we made we made a fair amount of exceptions. But I think that the other piece waas there were a lot of people who would just choose to stay home on Tuesday or on a Friday. For whatever reason, good, good life reasons. But the issue is when you have that happening in math, it does. It does hurt overall productivity on. So you actually think that the person who stays home I know for me like when I stay home to wait for the cable guy like I'm half a productive If I would have been in the office for that same period of time And so we really wanted not only to, you know, work with the folks who were originally were officially from working from home, but also some of the unofficial time because we really wanted to pull the energy into into the business. Another question for Marissa. Okay, I'll ask the last question. Ursula Burns was just talking about transparency right before us, and you've done something interesting. You have you had your reported earnings on Tuesday, and you are now doing video burnings calls. Why are you doing that? And you did something totally new on Tuesday that you had never done before in that you took Twitter questions from anyone out there for, Um well, I'm really lucky. My CFO is the most experienced. The Evo in Tak 10 Golden has been the public. I'm gonna see CFO for 28 years on. And frankly, I was like, Well, what can we do to make this more interesting for Canton? And I like to innovate. And I was like, You know, it's gotta be boring, right? Like when you're doing your like 100 and 12 learning something like that on their way that we can we can mix things up. I like to innovate, but give us time to sort of change the format for Kannami Nowhere. Yahoo. We produce video content, you know. Wouldn't it be better if we should be trying something we tried for the first time in in July? Should we try video? And we really liked It is not because it's actually really quite stressful to be on camera and be taking a lot of questions. A lot of Alaska's. We tape it beforehand, and then just a red and his nose, like whatever happens, happens. So it is. It is quite stressful, but the really amazing thing it allows us to do is show our products and actually show the progress. So everything from animating charts as we're talking about those charts to showing the product refreshes the past quarter. We did 15 major product refreshes and launches. So as I'm talking about them, to be able to show them on screen really bring them to life is something that we think is really powerful. That part worked well. I think that, you know, we wanted to try and do the Twitter and email questions with past time to get some some preservation, but also because we sort of a bit of a funny system right now because we have a conference call running in the background where we take the questions. And then we've got the video. The video Webcast we're trying to figure out could be consolidate the two calls into one. So we're not piping the phone call into the video call. But but the real essence of it is that a lot of times you want riel time questions because the analysts are reacting to the content you you talked about earlier in the call. And so I think we're gonna end up having to have about live call in line opens. This is too hard to get the good and the best analyst relevant questions beforehand. via Twitter. So you think you're gonna drop the Twitter idea? We'll see. Yeah. I mean, we're innovating. We're trying on a new format. We want to try this with something new. But I overall think that the analyst questions were better. More topical on point. And there is a really value of them getting Thio here. The release here, the call, and then ask in response to that. Yeah. Keep on innovating. Think. Thank you were a vampire. Thank you all. Don't leave the room. Not over yet.