Marissa Mayer: Creating Impact at Yahoo

Marissa Mayer Quotes

Marissa Mayer became CEO of Yahoo in 2012, a post she stepped into after thirteen years at Google where she had been one of the company’s earliest employees and the first female engineer. On arrival at Yahoo, she became the youngest woman ever to lead a Fortune 500 company, and while her success in this post is up for debate, there can be no denying that Marissa is someone who’s not afraid to step up to a challenge, or in her words, “I always did something I was a little a little not ready to do.”

Growing up, Marissa describes herself as “painfully shy”, yet she pushed through this to become captain of her high school debate team, Spanish club, and pom-pom squad, alongside taking part in a wide range of extracurricular activities including ballet and piano lessons. Perhaps overcoming her natural shyness taught her how to do what she was “a little not ready to do” but she says, “I think that’s how you grow. When there’s that moment of ‘Wow, I’m not really sure I can do this,’ and you push through those moments, that’s when you have a breakthrough. Sometimes that’s a sign that something really good is about to happen. You’re about to grow and learn a lot about yourself.”

Being in the Room

Marissa graduated from Stanford University with degrees in symbolic systems and computer science. She had intended to major in paediatric neuroscience but switched to symbolic systems – a combined study of computer science, philosophy, linguistics and psychology – which she describes as “studying the brain without the gore.” After graduation, she had any number of job options open to her but chose to sign up with Google because she felt the company offered greater opportunities to be a part of the decision-making process. She explains her choice by saying, I also interviewed at McKinsey, which is a great company, but I had some friends who went there, and they said, ‘Well, we give the presentations, and then we leave the room, and the executives make the decisions’ … I just felt like at Google I could be in the room. Even if you fail, you learn so much by being where the decision is made.”

When Marissa joined Yahoo, the company was struggling, and the first thing she wanted to do was change the culture. She wanted the people working there to feel valued, and she wanted to attract new recruits who would feel excited about joining the company, so she spent the first few weeks listening to people and building a picture of what could be done to generate a sense of pride in the workplace. She says, “One of the things that make people proud to work somewhere is having insights into how decisions are made.”

Go Time

Marissa made herself available to talk to people in the cafeteria every day, and she remembers on one occasion soon after her arrival, an employee approached her and asked, “Is it go time?” Having only been there for a few days, she made it clear she wanted him to stay and give her a chance, but he then let her know she’d misunderstood him; when he said “go”, he meant it as in getting to work. He explained that he was frustrated by the amount of time it took for management to make decisions, saying he had ideas he wanted to put forward.

This was exactly the attitude she was looking for and she opened up a weekly forum to encourage all employees to put forward their ideas which were then shared with the board, helping to demystify management decisions and create transparency across the company in the process. While at Google, Marissa learned from personal experience that being “in the room” and being a part of the decision-making process helped to generate a sense of trust between employees and the board which, in turn, helped a sense of pride to develop. Her leadership style and the decisions she has made have been criticized by many but she has her own way of dealing with this, saying, “One of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever gotten is there are always a lot of good choices, and then there’s the one you pick, commit to, and make great.”

As of this writing, Yahoo has been sold to Verizon and Marissa will not be a part of the future rebranded company called “Oath” (merging the capabilities of Yahoo and AOL). While Marissa’s future is uncertain, a leader as bold and innovative as Marissa is sure to find her way. We all have moments at work and in life when we feel a little not ready, but just remember, it’s pushing through those moments that helps you to grow – and it could be a sign that something really good is about to happen!