The pivot is the most popular move in Silicon Valley today. Normally, it's a suggestion that start-ups, or even relatively adolescent outfits need to be able to switch directions on a tack. It's not necessarily an idea that gets attached too comfortably to larger incumbents. Apple is the notable exception.
But Yahoo's decision to hire Google exec Marissa Mayer, and by extension Mayer's decision to take the gig as Yahoo CEO, has strategic pivot written all over it.
Michael Arrington in his Uncrunched blog wrote, “But what the press has missed so far is that this is a paradigm shift for Yahoo. Mayer is completely out of Yahoo’s league. So far out that I’m surprised they even had the courage to approach her (although it’s possible she approached them). But they obviously found that courage, and Mayer has taken the job."
Since the announcement, the tech press has been full of stories about the ghosts of Yahoo CEO's past and their myriad short fallings and failings.
PandoDaily's Sarah Lacy fired off two quick pieces on the Mayer story, and with the gist of her analysis encapsulated by this point, “It’s easy to think of Mayer as a ‘new Tim Armstrong’ — a successful, well-heralded Google exec who may have looked good as part of Google, but could well struggle taking on an aging, dysfunctional Web giant.
"...But Armstrong was a sales guy; Mayer is a technologist. The move seems to telegraph that Yahoo will be going back to its roots, focusing her design and product eye on strengths like mail, finance and sports, but I doubt that means she’s going the sheer news and media direction that Armstrong took AOL even with Yahoo’s strengths in these areas.”
Both PandoDaily and Business Insider sought out the views of Web sage Marc Andreessen of Andreessen Horowitz — a firm which, along with other potential syndicate members, last year looked very closely at Yahoo as a potential acquisition target.
Andreessen told PandoDaily that Mayer should start by firing 10,000 people since its currently carrying about 18,000 staff but can only really justify less than half that.
Meanwhile, in an interview with Business Insider, Andreessen said of the decision, “It's a huge statement on the part of the board that they want the company to be product-led. I say that because they had a great CEO if they wanted to be media-led. It's a huge double down on product.”
Mashable described Yahoo/Mayer as Silicon Valley's new odd couple. Unlike much of the flattering coverage that has attended the announcement, there were some observations in this article that Grok will store away for a rainy day. Mashable compares her to Steve Jobs in some regards — calling her a perfectionist with a strong sense of entitlement. And it noted that Gawker described her as, “The Google Princess … for her pull out all stops 2009 wedding.”
But here's the line in the story that really caught our attention and it's a quote from Mayer herself in an interview with FastCompany explaining how she embraces the chaos of management: “I had a flow chart on my wall with, like, 127 people to notify and 37 possible launch dates.” That quote speaks volumes, although in truth you can interpret it either way.
As to Mayer’s motivation for a job many would regard as a hospital pass, or as one US wag noted “the Hail Mayer play”, there's been plenty written already about how the bright young star — Google's employee number 20 — wanted to step out of from behind the shadows of Google's founders Larry Page and Sergy Brin.
But Techcrunch may have come closer to the truth with this observation: “As part of a Google re-organization some 18 months ago, she moved from a role as VP of search product to a somewhat lower-visibility role as VP of location and local services. With that job change, she was shifted off of Google’s highest strata of executives, according to people familiar with the company.”
Andrew Birmingham is the CEO of Silicon Gully Investments. Follow him on Twitter @ag_birmingham.