Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Marissa Mayer, Iron Lady of Yahoo!

Speaking of Iron Ladies, remember when Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer announced a ban on telecommuting.

When Mayer took over Yahoo!, it was in serious trouble. Morale was sinking; the office was empty; employees did not interact with each other.

So, Mayer took charge.

For her pains she elicited howls of derision. Many people believe that telecommuting solves the problem of work/life balance. They denounced Mayer as a traitor to her gender.

Some pundits even suggested that the bad PR would cause Mayer to back down. At the time, I suggested that it would be a bad idea.

Great leaders, male and female, do not cave to pressure.

If Mayer had been influenced by media commentary she would never have gained the respect of her employees. Had she given in, her days as CEO would have been numbered.

After all, her job is to run Yahoo! Most of those who were commenting in the media have no idea of what is involved in being a CEO.

A recent event suggests that, like the other Iron Lady, Mayer is made of sturdier stuff.

After Yahoo! announced its ban, a long-time and productive employee put in a request to continue to work from home. Yahoo! refused the request and eliminated his job.

Rocco Pendola reported on the story:

Here's how, according to my source, it turned out:

They reviewed [this employee's] case. It went up through a process. And, they denied [the employee's] request. I'm sure [the employee] didn't quit. They eliminated [the employee's] role with an end date.

At least in this particular case -- of a productive Yahoo! veteran -- Marissa Mayer says, you don't want to work in the office, we no longer require your services. No unemployment. Most likely a severance. And what appears to be a relatively cold goodbye. 

Marissa Mayer is not playing around as she guts the bloated ranks at Yahoo!, even if she has to cut bodies not necessarily contributing to the bloat.


Bobbye said...

Leadership is leadership. It is the same position (power) for male or female. What is funny is feminists, who claim to want equallity, to be so upset when a female CEO acts like a man instead of acting like a woman.

Anonymous said...

I like her. It seems she has identified the corporate culture as a major problem and is serious about trying to correct that.

n.n said...


She's not acting like a man. Women can be just as assertive as men. This character trait is not what generally distinguishes between men and women.

That said, I only emphasize this point because gender roles have been distorted in a capricious and unproductive manner, which has also served to denigrate the dignity of both men and women, of people as individuals.

It's the same distortion that occurs when there is criticism of someone acting "white". The majority of the world's people act "white". They acted "white" long before "white" was ever part of their lexicon or culture.

It's a mistake to explicitly or implicitly grant legitimacy to divisive individuals, movements, organizations, and other cooperatives.

CatherineM said...

Why would the person not receive unemployment?

Bobbye said...

@ n.n.
Why are the feminists upset then?

Anonymous said...

Yahoo never had a business model that I understand. A productive worker from home probably adds value to a business with a proper business model. See this article:

Power to hire and fire is not to be confused with leadership. But obviously people get confused on this issue.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

But... power to transform a dysfunctional culture is.

Anonymous said...

In the movie Charlie Wilson's war, the line which expresses human karma (function or dysfunctional consequences) is, "We'll see said the Zen master."

Personally I am less compelled to follow a "leader" who fires a productive worker, at home or in the office, to display "power" over me, but I guess others are impressed by such gestures, and I know why I would be impressed if not for my desire to engage in reason rather than infantile ideas about my dysfunctional upbringing.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

Huh? No one said anything about anyone's dysfunctional childhood. As I have often said, the proof of leadership lies in the way the company functions.

The information, as presented to the reporter suggests that the worker was productive. I'll refrain from further judgment until we know more.

But, clearly, as a leader Mayer was obliged to implement her new policy and to assert that the good of the company superseded the good of any individual, no matter how productive.

Veronica said...

I agree with NN that Mayer is not acting like a man. She is acting like a woman who is running a company. Men do not have a monopoly on assertiveness, leadership and consistency.

I respect that Mayer has to make her decision based on what is best for her company, not on feminist grounds. But I think this works out well in any case. Telecommuting is, in my opinion, not a great option for working mothers. When you don't have that face time, you don't advance. And if telecommuting is an option, you can bet that the pressure will be on the female half of the working couple to take that option as well as the career hit (not because men are bad but because, for cultural reasons, everyone assumes it should be the woman's job, not the man's to sacrifice career in favor of family).

Hanna Rosin points out in her article on this issue that Mayer had policies to accommodate working parents at Google. Presumably, a parent (male or female) who needs to leave early to pick up a sick child can do so at Yahoo.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

Good points, thank you.

Anonymous said...

Bad bosses also do not cave to presssure. And bad bosses also have the power to fire a person.

If iconic gestures can be used for good or bad, then why would I advocate that iconic gestures of power are expressions of a "great leader?"

Anonymous said...

Good bosses are communicative, consistent, focused, fair and do not cave to pressure. If they fire people, I don't care. Let me know what the playing field is so I can succeed, please. Hold me accountable to objective metrics. Own your crap. Be honest. Don't be arbitrary.

Almost every woman I know would rather work for a man, period. There is no contest, no discussion. And this is not to impress... I have heard this in mixed company, one-on-one, etc. The only women I have ever heard be defensive or deny this are either (a) feminists who are ideologically blind, or (b) single women who are looking to move ahead in their careers, and even those women say that working for a woman is a pain in the ass.

Anonymous @2:07P: I agree with you about Yahoo's business model. Never made sense. They were destroyed by Alta Vista and then Google. And I never understood why Jerry Yang was such a media darling. He's a terrible leader.


David Foster said...

MM has apparently also centralized the hiring process at Yahoo:

I don't think her policies so far are Thatcherist at all; quite the contrary. Margaret Thatcher wanted to move *away* from centralized control of the economy; MM is removing authority and autonomy from her subordinate executives.

Authority and responsibility should go together. If she wants to hold her executives accountable for results, they need to have reasonable discretion as to who they hire and what the working arrangements are. If she doesn't think her current executive team is up to the job, the answer is to get rid of the poor performers and put in ones she has confidence in...not to micromanage the organization to the point about worrying about which salesman to hire in Dubuque and whether a graphics artist in San Antonio can work from home or not.

Anonymous said...

Well-said, David. The biggest problem in organizations is that those with the responsibility for results are not given the authority to act. I see it every day. It's a waste.


Anonymous said...

Stuart S. said above, "The good of the company superseded the good of any individual, no matter how productive."

My definition of dysfunction is when the needs of individuals are not met in relationships with the group. In dysfunction the ends are used to rationalize and justify the means. In a functional group the means and the ends serve each other to meet the needs of individuals through relationships with the group.

Sam L. said...

Some individuals are sufficiently dysfunctional to mess up the group, and must be terminated.