Book Review: Marissa Mayer and the fight to save Yahoo!

book cover imageCarlson, Nicholas. Marissa Mayer and the fight to save Yahoo! Twelve, 2015. Also available as a downloadable audiobook, eBook, and on Kindle

In the late 1990’s Yahoo was the place to work in Silicon Valley.  Yahoo attracted the best engineers.   The corporate culture was friendly, innovative and irreverent.   For customers, Yahoo was an easy to use interactive platform for email, chat rooms, shopping, travel and games.  For most users, Yahoo was the internet.

But in 2000, Yahoo’s good fortune began to change as advertising revenues declined and competition with startups like Google intensified.  Leadership changes designed to turn Yahoo into a next generation media company failed.  Frequent CEO changes produced additional corporate mistakes and missed opportunities.  In 2012 Marissa Mayer was hired from Google to end the long period of decline by transforming the company.

In Marissa Mayer and the Fight to Save Yahoo!, business journalist Nicholas Carlson tells the complicated story of Yahoo and its famous CEO.  After graduating from Stanford in 1999,  Mayer accepts a position at Google as a coder to surround herself with smart people who would challenge her to grow.   Less than a year later, Mayer finds her niche, guiding the development of Google’s user interface and setting the agenda on the products that Google would make.

Like many others at Google, Mayer is smart and ambitious.  Some say she takes credit for the work of others.  She is confident, dismissive, self-promoting and insensitive to the feelings of others. But so are many other technology company icons, such as Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg and their behavior does not generate the same resentment.   In 2011 Mayer conflicts openly with other executives and is removed from the top spot at Google Search, the company’s most important product, and is moved to Google Maps.  She decides to leave.

When Mayer gets to Yahoo in 2012 the company is in bad shape.  The firm does not have a clear identity: Is Yahoo a media company or an internet products company?   Revenues are declining.  Employees are demoralized by layoffs and unmotivated due to lack of strategic direction.  Mayer is tough and intense, taking the lead on product reviews.   To improve transparency, she sets up weekly town meetings with Yahoo employees.  She replaces  company leadership, not always successfully.  Despite her efforts, she has yet to engineer a turnaround.  Fortunately, Yahoo has a strong presence in Asia, including a stake in Alibaba, which generates a fortune in cash when the Chinese e-commerce company goes public in 2014.

Marissa Mayer and the Fight to Save Yahoo! contains an unflattering portrait of Roy Bostock, Yahoo chairman 2008-12.  Bostock has been a member of the Fuqua Board of Visitors and Duke Board of Trustees.  He and his wife Merilee are also generous donors to the university and in appreciation, Duke’s Bostock Library is named after them.  This book is recommended.

© Meg Trauner & Ford Library – Fuqua School of Business.
All rights reserved.

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