Three years ago, Marissa Mayer was bragging about "boomerang hires"--former employees who had returned to Yahoo, presumably because they were optimistic about its renewed prospects under its then-new CEO.
These days, the migration is moving in the other direction. More than a third of Yahoo's work force has left in the past year, and, on Tuesday, Mayer announced plans to part ways in the next few months with another 15 percent of those who remain.
Mayer broke the news on Yahoo's fourth-quarter earnings call, where she also revealed plans to write down the value of a collection of its businesses, including Tumblr, by a breathtaking $4.5 billion. It's as close as she has come to admitting that her strategy for reviving the sagging internet conglomerate has failed, at least so far.
Not that she admitted any such thing. "Yahoo today is a far stronger, more modern company than the one I joined three and a half years ago," asserted Mayer, who was an executive at rival Google at the time of her hiring.
In her video presentation to Wall Street analysts, she did her best to spin Yahoo's disappointing financials--in particular, its declining haul of revenue minus the cost of acquiring traffic, which totaled just over $1 billion in 2015--as evidence of progress. Yahoo only looks like it's stuck in the doldrums, she said, because it faces "headwinds" of $100 million per quarter, in the form of revenue declines within its legacy business segments, such as desktop web ads. Mayer could have made her comparisons look better by closing or selling off those aging businesses when she took over in 2012, she suggested, but "we knew it would be irresponsible to walk away from large streams of revenue and profits prematurely."
Yahoo is experiencing a lot of growth, she insisted--just not enough to more than offset the headwinds. More than one-third of Yahoo's total revenue of $1.25 billion came from mobile, video, social, and native advertising, streams that were all but nonexistent when Mayer arrived on the scene. She likened the apparent flatness of Yahoo's top line to "a tectonic shift where the plates shift beneath your feet but you stay at the same elevation."
Still, the reorganization Mayer unveiled represents a concession that at least some parts of Mayer's strategy haven't worked out. While much of the reduction in headcount will be achieved by closing offices in Mexico City, Dubai, Buenos Aires, Madrid, and Milan, the company will also be consolidating or eliminating some of the expensive new businesses Mayer has invested in, such as its digital magazines. In total, more than 1,500 employees will be "remixed," as Mayer prefers to call layoffs, according to the Times. Meanwhile, the company faces a lawsuit from workers who maintain they were victims of an illegal mass layoff, more than 1,000 of whom will be eligible for back pay and damages if the suit succeeds.
Yahoo's investors continue to await a sale of the company's valuable stake in Alibaba, delayed while CFO Ken Goldman tries to figure out how to avoid triggering an outsize tax bill. Some investors are openly rooting for a sale of Yahoo's core business; the company says it will consider "qualified" offers but is clearly not keen on the possibility.
As pressure on Mayer continues to mount, she has been targeted by damaging leaks intended to paint her as financially irresponsible. Those leaks occasioned a bizarre moment on Tuesday's earnings call, when Mayer ground the proceedings to a halt to dispute reports that she spent $7 million on a swanky company holiday party and has spent $450 million on food for Yahoo workers during her tenure. Those figures were "both exaggerated by more than a factor of three," she said. "Please know that we are very thoughtful about how we spend company resources and will continue to be."