What do Martha Stewart, Andrew Mason and Paula Deen have in common? All three were celebrity CEOs when they imploded and damaged their organizations' images and reputations.
Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer might be in jeopardy of doing the same thing. Her outsize Vogue spread, a hyper-inflated homage to a self-proclaimed geeky-glamour-queen-Valley-Girl, should be a fat warning to any entrepreneur thinking of following in Mayer’s Prada-clad footsteps.
Unlike Stewart and Mason, who alienated people with their patronizing, expletive-strewn ways, or Deen, who redefined the word racist, Mayer is a different kind of celebrity. She’s a talented engineer and leader. But her downfall may be the fact that she adores being in the spotlight and yearns for the approval of others.
Words don’t lie.
Witness these excerpts from a recent Vogue profile:
Mayer describing her geekiness: “I really like numbers, and I like heavily divisible numbers. When I turned 37, I put on a strong face, but I was not looking forward to 37. But 37 turned out to be a pretty amazing year. Especially considering that 36 is divisible by twelve!”
Really? That sort of childish banter is supposed to inspire employees, investors, and the general business community?
Mayer embracing her inner Valley Girl: “And I was like, 'Oh right, it would be nice to have an impact that’s bigger than just me.' It’s not like I had a grand plan where I weighed all the pros and cons of what I wanted to do--it just sort of happened.”
Like, how totally rad is that? Marissa just, kinda, like, suddenly rose through Google’s ranks, and was plucked away by a knight in shining armor (Daniel Loeb, an active investor on Yahoo’s board) to run the beleaguered tech giant.
Mayer displaying her inner glamour queen: On the day of the Vogue interview, Mayer was “...wearing a red Michael Kors dress with a gold belt and a brown Oscar de la Renta cardigan. This cashmere bolero is her work uniform--she has the same one in ivory, navy, black, hot pink, teal, red, and royal blue, and adds new colors every season.”
How better to communicate a “Let them eat cake” message to the average employee?
Do good work, but watch your image.
To her credit, Mayer has stirred the pot at Yahoo. According to the company’s head of mobile (and former Googler), Adam Cahan, “Yahoo has released more products in the last six months than probably in the last five years.”
That’s terrific. But multiple reports indicate Mayer is also the ultimate micromanager who totally controls every meeting and every decision. Mix that together with a personal PR campaign that would be the envy of Eliot Spitzer, and you have all the ingredients for an epic fall from grace.
Five reasons not to follow in Mayer’s footsteps.
Avoid the temptation to pursue Ms. Mayer’s brand of hagiographic personal publicity. Here are five reasons why:
So do yourself a favor. Share the publicity wealth. I’m sure you have superb executives in your organization. Each is undoubtedly a subject matter expert. Make sure each builds a profile with the media.
Don’t make the Marissa Meyer “Look at me!” mistake. It may be a major ego boost, but it’s not a sound business decision.