Most people following Yahoo's meltdown don't need convincing that Marissa Mayer is on her way out. The CEO has faced criticism for extravagance, micromanagement, poor hiring decisions, and failure to deliver a promised turnaround throughout her tenure at the troubled company.
Following a 29 percent drop in the company's stock over the past year and Mayer's pledge during the company's fourth quarter earnings call earlier this month to cut staff 15 percent, speculation about who could succeed her has turned to earnest talk about the manner in which she'll leave. The possible sale of Yahoo to Time Inc. could push her out as part of the structure of the deal, according to reports.
So what do you do when you're known as the maligned CEO of a failing tech giant? Says Columbia Business School professor Rita Gunther McGrath, Mayer needs to find a way to reframe the story of what's happening at Yahoo if (read: when) she moves on from her role as CEO there.
"She needs to think about what her brand really stands for," says McGrath, whose work centers on strategy in uncertain environments. Mayer might want to frame her likely departure from Yahoo as the result of the company's board losing patience with a turnaround strategy that otherwise would have worked given more time.
Former GOP presidential candidate Carly Fiorina, who was fired from her role as CEO of Hewlett-Packard by the company's board in 2005, could serve as one model for how Mayer might present herself. Shares of HP fell 55 percent and 30,000 workers were laid off while Fiorina held the role of chief executive.
But during her campaign, Fiorina positioned herself as a business leader in a tough position. "I was recruited to Hewlett-Packard to save the company, and I did that and we saved a lot of jobs in the process," Politico quoted the former candidate as saying last year. Similar hedging could help Mayer as she moves forward with her career.
Another person from whom Mayer can take a cue: Sallie Krawcheck, who was fired from her role as CFO of Citigroup. Krawcheck is now CEO of investment fund Ellevest, which focuses on women-led companies and women investors. The fund is slated to launch this year.
McGrath thinks it's unlikely Mayer will find herself leading another public company, adding, "I could be wrong--I'm sure there are counterexamples." More likely, she'll end up doing something on her own with her own resources, like angel investing, starting a venture capital fund, or consulting. Taking time off to consider her options and spend time with her three young children, wouldn't hurt, says McGrath.
"Here's a very skilled, very talented, knowledgeable person who has a lot of value to contribute, but probably not in [the role of CEO]," McGrath says of Mayer.