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What Other CEOs Can Learn From Marissa Mayer's Attempts to Turn Yahoo Around

It's harder than it looks, trying to change a company's culture.

What Other CEOs Can Learn From Marissa Mayer's Attempts to Turn Yahoo Around
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Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer stepped into a difficult situation when she first joined the company in 2012.

Yahoo was already in decline and it wasn't clear how it wanted to revitalize the business. A number of CEOs had damaged their reputations trying to save Yahoo before her. The company's been stuck in perennial drama and dysfunction over the past decade.

Four years in, and Mayer's quest to save Yahoo is still far from over. But it may be nearing the end, as activist investors have joined Yahoo's board, hastening the prospect of the company being sold. 

In any case, there's a lot to be learned from Mayer's struggles to turn Yahoo around. Here are a few lessons, according to a Quora thread discussing this topic:

It's really, really hard to change a company culture. 

"And it's even more difficult to change when the company has been struggling like Yahoo. 

"When you work at a company like this for a long time (11 years in my case, 13 years at Google in Mayer's case), you believe you can do just about anything. And you develop a strong belief that no matter what situation you are dropped into, you will come out victorious." --Brett Foxformer CEO of Touchstone Semiconductor, GM at Micrel, EIR at Crosslink Capital 

You can't buy your way into growth.

"Yahoo had a chance, but it didn't lie with the dumb acquisitions Marissa made, nor her hirings (Henrique de Castro, anyone?), both staid, moribund plays that establishment companies make. Which is fine, but in and of itself is not innovation, much less entrepreneurship." --JP Kaneshida

Know when to say "No."

"I get it--Marissa is bright, determined, capable, and wanted to show that off in a spectacular way. Given the opportunity to 'turnaround Yahoo,' it's almost an irresistible challenge.

"Problem is, none of her prior experience prepared her for this. Like, at all." --Stan Hanksserial entrepreneur since age 12

Know the company's strengths and weaknesses before taking charge.

"Marissa Mayer failed in her pursuit of making Yahoo predominantly a mobile company. That was her agenda for the turnaround. Too bad, she did not have the right product teams in place and I am sure she knew that it was going to be an uphill task when she took charge.

"Now, Yahoo's valuation has deterred even more. It would be cynical to point fingers at one of Google's best-known former leaders--Marissa Mayer--but in my opinion, she failed to understand that Yahoo has always been a media company rather than a technology company." --Deepak SelvanCEO of VizConn

The CEO can't do it alone--it's the whole team.

"Marissa Mayer found a Yahoo with many issues and much legacy business in trouble. Turnarounds require a lot of cooperation, but clearly not everyone at Yahoo agreed on direction.

"Despite brilliance of mind and character, it takes people, money, and teamwork to get things done, and it seems she has had issues there. As well, the markets have no patience, and this often clouds and affects the best efforts." --Robert Heiblimexpert in consumer electronics, technology, and markets

Business strategy is not a one-size-fits-all.

"You can't [take] what worked at one company and apply the same rules to another and expect them to work. Having worked at both Google and Yahoo, I could see how the same principles that worked at Google sort of backfired at Yahoo.

"Transplanting a culture does not work. A culture has to grow organically." --Anonymous

Old guards are always at risk of getting replaced quickly.

"Some once-great industry leaders get obsoleted and have zero reason to exist. In today's world, Yahoo has no reason to exist, and this has been true for years. Yahoo used to be 'the front page of the internet.' Today, the internet doesn't need a front page like that, and if it does--Facebook is that front page." --Marc Bodnickco-founder, Elevation Partners

Shut out the noise and focus.

"I have complete respect for Marissa Mayer to have taken on such a Herculean task in the first place, given that the level of dysfunction at Yahoo seems to have been pretty common knowledge.

"I think the lessons here are to persevere on your path of reform, adjusting regularly as new data comes to be known, but to shut out the noise and focus on the core of the plan." --Patrick HawleyWeb developer for over 20 years; manager of engineering, revenue operations, and product

Innovation and management are different.

"Yahoo needed someone who could innovate entrepreneurially, and those go hand in hand (or glove). Marissa was an engineer by training, not an entrepreneur. First strike.

"While she managed at Google, managing is not innovating, much less being entrepreneurial. Innovating (jumping curves) entails vision, yes, but it's so much more. It's being able to tie that vision to needs, wants, and/or desires. Entrepreneurship is the qualities one brings to the table, the dogged determination to seek out avenues that gain traction, moving the ball toward the goal line." --JP Kaneshida

Focus relentlessly on the customer.

"'If you build it, they will come' isn't true in the internet era. Neither is 'If they come and like the experience, they will stay.' First, you have to get them to come, then you need to convince them to bring their friends, and then you need to keep pushing out the edge." --Virginia Backaitis

Absolutely nothing.

"Bottom line: Using prior CEO failures as lessons learned have to be used cautiously as predictors for the future CEO. Leaders of companies the likes of Facebook or Google are faced with unbelievably unique challenges...and cutting and pasting prior CEO mistakes certainly will not be the answer." --Andre' D. Harrellsix year entrepreneur and CEO of a boutique management consulting company

This story first appeared on Business Insider

Apr 28, 2016
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