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COMPANY CULTURE

The Biggest Threat to the Yahoo-Tumblr Combination

A recently-acquired founder has some advice on company culture for Marissa Mayer.
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So another young tech genius cashes out as Yahoo acquires Tumblr for $1.1 billion. Will Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer be able to turn it into a profitable venture? I'll leave that to the pundits. I'm going to address what poses the biggest risk to a successful integration: culture. Yahoo and Tumblr have very different company cultures--and if the marriage is not handled correctly, it could mean disaster for everyone involved.

Already social media observers and even Tumblr employees are openly saying to Yahoo: "Leave us alone." Tumblr has built a successful brand and culture by doing things its own way. And while the execs at Yahoo will certainly be touting the Tumblr culture as a major reason they bought the company, make no mistake: they will do whatever is necessary to monetize the investment and satisfy shareholders.

My own company, BerylHealth, was recently purchased by a large public company. I've felt assured Stericycle respects Beryl's culture; the CEO asked me to become the chief culture officer of the combined entity. But I have no doubt that merging into a larger company--let alone scaling Beryl's culture to a multi-billion dollar enterprise--will have its challenges.

Here's the advice I have for Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer:

Don't say, 'Nothing will change.'
While this could placate employees in the short term, you know it's not true, and you'll lose trust when you inevitably start making changes.

Recognize your new people--soon.
You bought a cool social media site that caters to the younger generation. But you didn't just buy a website. You bought the hearts and minds of 175 people who live and breathe the Tumblr ethos. They are your product.

Get to profitability.
Tumblr will only survive (and Yahoo will only thrive) if it makes money. Tumblr's employees need to know that millions of blog posts a day doesn't ultimately provide a long-term return to stakeholders. No need to apologize for that.

Brainstorm together.
Don't make decisions for the Tumblr team, but with them. These are smart people who know their business. Tumblr's leaders have earned a right to be at the table.

Make known your core values.
Start right now and make sure your employees understand your company-wide mission, vision, and values-- that they are part of something bigger than themselves.

I wish you all the best of luck.

IMAGE: codepo8/Flickr, wearesocial/Flickr
Last updated: May 21, 2013

PAUL SPIEGELMAN | Columnist | CEO of BerylHealth

Paul Spiegelman is the chief culture officer at Stericycle and founder and former CEO of BerylHealth. He also co-founded the Small Giants Community with Inc. editor-at-large Bo Burlingham. You can read more at PaulSpiegelman.com.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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