Thursday, February 18, 2016

Marissa Mayer: Mother-in-Chief

When they hired Marissa Mayer to be CEO the Board of Yahoo! knew that she was pregnant. After all, the great minds of Silicon Valley understand that pregnancy is merely a social construct and that nothing about the experience of nurturing a newborn infant, to say nothing of raising a toddler, would in any way interfere with Mayer’s ability to do her job.

Since Mayer was in the late 30s by the time she had her first child, she was, as they say, living the dream. She had followed the feminist life plan and has postponed marriage and family in favor of her career. That this plan often found women having children at the same time they reached the pinnacle of corporate success did not bother anyone.

From a feminist perspective, Marissa Mayer had it all. The only remaining question was how were the shareholders of Yahoo! doing? By now it is clear that Mayer’s tenure at Yahoo has been a monumental corporate failure. It is quickly becoming the stuff of legend.

When she first arrived, however, Mayer was doing very well, indeed. It seemed that she was turning the company around.

Within weeks of Mayer’s arrival, the lots were packed and the headquarters was humming till Friday evenings. Within months, Yahoo was launching products at a pace it hadn’t hit in more than a decade. Within a year, Yahoo was winning awards and praise from the press for its product design. By the summer of 2013, tens of thousands of people were applying for Yahoo jobs every quarter. Yahoo finally had a team of hundreds working on apps for smartphones.

But then, in November, 2013 Marissa Mayer did something that had surely never before happened at the staff meeting of a large corporation. While holding a meeting with Yahoo! employees, Mayer did not answer the employee questions. She did not address the fact that many employees were upset with some of her management decisions. Instead, she started reading them a children’s book.

Business Insider describes what happened:

The mood of Yahoo employees that day in November 2013 was not whimsical.

Some of the people in the room were angry — angry about refused promotions and pay raises, angry that their jobs now seemed to entail an endless series of tasks done only because “Marissa said so,” or angry that new employees were coming into the company and making a lot more money. They were angry because, to them, it seemed like Marissa Mayer had said one thing and done another.

Most of the gathered Yahoo employees and executives weren’t so mad. They were just confused. They believed Mayer was brilliant, hardworking, and sincerely interested in the welfare of Yahoo, its employees, and its users. They’d decided this after Mayer came to Yahoo from Google in July 2012 and brought with her sweeping changes that reenergized the entire company.

And then Mayer became undone:

Now, in November 2013, the many Yahoos who had admired all Mayer’s progress wondered: Why was Mayer throwing away all the goodwill she had earned with a series of policies that were, at best, poorly rolled out and badly explained to employees or, at worst, plain mistakes. They wondered, more seriously than at any time since she joined, if Mayer was actually up for the job of saving Yahoo.

Mayer sat in front of them all, in a chair on a stage at the far end of the cafeteria. Next to her chair was a small table. Mayer had something with her. It looked like a book or a folder with an illustration on it.

It gets worse:

So now it was a Thursday: Nov. 7, 2013. Everyone in the company was waiting for Mayer to say something to remind them that she was the CEO who was finally going to restore Yahoo to its rightful place in the internet industry.

Mayer took a breath. She said hello to everyone. She reminded them of the meeting’s confidentiality. She said she looked through their questions and she had something she wanted to read. It had been a book in her hands, after all. A children’s book.

She began to read.

"Bobbie had a nickel all his very own. Should he buy some candy or an ice cream cone?"

Mayer held the book up, to show the employees the illustrations.

"Should he buy a bubble pipe? Or a boat of wood?"

Another illustration.

"Maybe, though, a little truck would be the best of all!"

Employees in URLs exchanged looks. At their desks, employees in remote offices grew confused.

What was Mayer doing?

Did she know who she was? Did she know where she was? Did she understand her role and her duty toward company employees and shareholders?

Apparently, not. She seemed to wish that she were at home with her eleven-month-old baby, reading a story. Whatever the cause of her dissociative state, it is clear that juggling the roles of CEO and new mother was not working out. Embracing the role of mother by infantilizing your staff does not inspire confidence.

More recently, when Mayer was nine months pregnant with twins, she decided to throw a Gatsby themed Christmas bash. That she would not have recognized the impropriety of a woman in her condition seeming to indulge in decadent pursuits boggles the mind.

Dealbreaker summarizes Mayer’s track record:

The woman who brought us fresh management techniques like accidental firingstortuous salvation planning, reading children’s books to terrified employees, demanding notarized blood oaths from senior staffers and literally dressing up like Marie Antoinette during a crisis is at it again!

Kara Swisher of re/code reports on Mayer’s stroke of executive genius: layoff Wednesday.

Swisher writes:

According to sources close to the situation, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer has designated Wednesday as the day of the week to make massive employee cuts that the company announced at its earnings call weeks ago. But, instead of just felling the ax at once of 15 percent of staff, she has dragged the pain out in several weekly layoffs.

And today, the hits seem to be largely happening at Yahoo’s media unit and also in Los Angeles. Re/code previously reported that the division was going to see a lot of cost cuts, especially in Mayer’s once vaunted digital “magazine” efforts. It was not so long ago that the company touted its splashy plan to hire big names to helm these offerings, in food, beauty and tech. All those are now getting consolidated and reorganized, said multiple sources, with some verticals going poof.


priss rules said...

Tolerance must come after judgment.

Tolerance after judgment is a virtue.

Tolerance without judgment is a vice: Decadence leading to degeneracy.

Likewise, forgiveness must follow contrition.
Forgiving the remorseless is recipe for disaster.

In the US, we must tolerate homosexual vice without judgement. Worse, homos are allowed to judge us, and WE must show contrition and beg forgiveness from those steeped in vice and decadence.

David Foster said...

She must have had some message that she was trying to impart via the children's one who has been known to perpetrate analogies in business presentations, I have to have a little sympathy.

Re the Blood Oaths...the way you keep key people in a troubled situation is (a) put them in positions where they have considerable authority and autonomy (maybe more than they could get were they to jump ship), (b) develop a good enough relationship with them that there is a feeling of trust and even of loyalty, and (c) pay them well for the risk they are taking.

David Foster said...

Two examples, one good and one bad, of people trying to add a little spice to meetings in difficult times:

1) A new regional sales manager decided to position himself as Savior by riding a white horse into the meeting. He had very little previous experience in horsemanship....

2) A "Depression Party" to mark the conclusion of a bad quarter. Mulligan Stew was served, and there were various New Deal era posters, modified for the situation.

Sam L. said...

I presume you have a point, but I am not seeing it.