Yahoo tackles existential problem with engineering
By Rob Cox
The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.
Yahoo is tackling an existential problem not with a philosopher king, but an engineer. The internet grab bag has hired Marissa Mayer, one of the few females to rise up through Silicon Valleyâs geek hierarchy, to be its next chief executive. Sheâs certainly qualified – and no doubt itching – to become CEO of something. But Yahooâs manifold problems wonât so easily be solved by rewriting computer code.
Thatâs not to take away from Mayerâs many accomplishments. As Google employee number 20, she knows Yahooâs biggest nemesis better than just about anyone. While there, she was either intimately involved in, or responsible for, a variety of products, from the core search business and Gmail to its efforts to provide local content and Google Maps.
She has also been a Google evangelizer, speaking at conferences and bringing a touch of estrogenic glamour to a company founded by two roller-hockey-playing boy engineers from Stanford overseen by a chairman whose dating history has provided fodder for Silicon Valley gossip websites. Her years as the nerd queen in a complex full of men bodes well for her ability to retain and recruit the hacker set to Yahoo.
At least Mayer should be better able to focus on solving the enigma of Yahooâs raison dâetre. The thorny sale of a big chunk of Chinaâs Alibaba is now on a trajectory to bring in some $7 billion. A similar arrangement awaits to be struck with Yahoo Japan. Combined, these two stakes appear to make up a majority of Yahooâs $19 billion of market capitalization.
It would not be surprising to see Mayer push for keeping more of these proceeds inside the company. All ambitious new CEOs need money for deals and other projects. For that to happen, sheâll need to mollify Dan Loeb, the hedge fund manager who successfully grabbed three seats on Yahooâs board. Engineering a vision for shareholder money will be unlike any other project Mayer has confronted.