Most of us who grew up with the Internet (or really anyone who doesn’t have Snapchat on their smartphone) have fond memories of a fun and purply website called Yahoo, circa Y2K. But since the rise of Google and a series of bumbling episodes, Yahoo has become the station wagon of the Internet. It still runs, it’s not that pretty, and we all remember piling on for some good times. But, no, I’d rather take the Tesla out tonight, thanks!
I think that’s why many of us were excited to see a young web whippersnapper like Marissa Mayer take Yahoo’s helm last year. She’s spunky, has a weird laugh, and seems to get “it” like previous Yahoo CEOs haven’t.
She’s made a big splash so far, but can she really turn the Yahoo station wagon into a sports car? Or will her best efforts result in pouring a coat of paint on it?
At today’s annual shareholder’s meeting, she promised the former. But before we give her report card for 2012, here’s a recap on Yahoo’s last 5 shareholder’s meetings for some context:
CEO: Founder Jerry Yang (is back)
What happened: Yang discussed his regret over the controversy the previous year where Yahoo had (allegedly? inadvertently?) helped the Chinese government locate a political dissident (shades of Snowden?), who was later tortured. Also, corporate raider Carl Icahn had recently caused a kerfluffle after spurning Yahoo’s decision not to sell to Microsoft, then buying up tons of shares and wangling a board seat for himself. So this was an interesting meeting.
CEO: Carol Bartz
What happened: All hail the turnaround artist! This is the year the new CEO (Bartz) tried to image-shift the company away from its mediocre past. While human rights issues and Chinese censorship came up again, Bartz maintained control of the room, saying, “I am having a ball,” and commenting on her disdain for stories about Britney Spears on Yahoo’s home page.
CEO: Carol Bartz
What happened: Calm before the storm. This time, Yahoo kept things small. No media circus, no crazy talk. Just kind of the same things as before. The numbers weren’t really up or down. But in this case, no news was not good news …
CEO: Carol Bartz… for the last time
What happened: A stagnant Yahoo tries to keep the meeting calm and positive, despite fairly abysmal numbers and a non-turnaround since Bartz took the helm. At the end of the meeting, shareholder Steve Landry called for Bartz’s head, pointing out that the elephant in the room was when to find her replacement. Bartz said, “You’re welcome.” She was soon canned.
CEO: Ross Levinsohn
What happened: Well… after Bartz was fired for basically doing nothing for three years, her replacement, Scott Thompson, was essentially tossed out in disgrace after it turns out he hadfaked his resume. The company also swapped out 8 of its 11 directors. So this meeting was essentially a meet and greet.
CEO: Marissa Mayer
What happened: After some rah rah and a few shareholder speeches, the new Yahoo messiah, Mayer took control of the meeting like she has the company since last year: with charm and a lack of nonsense. “We’re focused on making the world’s daily habits inspiring and entertaining,” Mayer said, reiterating the company’s mission, painted on the wall behind her. And she’s putting billions of dollars where her mouth is: Since she signed on last summer, she’s put a flurry of things into action that have, if anything else, certainly stirred things up.
So how’d she do? Marissa’s Year 1 Report Card:
- Retracting the telecommuters. No more working from home!
A smart move, considering Yahoo’s suffering culture and productivity. But delivered a little less delicately than it could have been. B
- Banning BlackBerrys
A for Bloomberg-Soda-style power assertion and hilarity. (For the record, I’m on board with both!)
- Buying Summly for $30 million
Great news for the teenage genius who invented it. It’s unclear what this gets Yahoo other than an expensive press hit and a few brilliant programmers. While more informed opinions are TBD, I’m going to give it a C
- Buying Tumblr for $1.1 billion
Results TBD. But even better news for the teenage genius who invented it. A lot of people are torn on this, but I think it’s an incredibly smart move. Yahoo needs the demographic, and Karp may be the next Jobs one day. A
- Flickr Relaunch
Yahoo’s photo site, and one might argue, flagship social destination before Tumblr was relaunched with a new design and a fresh focus, after having languished for years since its acquisition. Add in a terabyte of storage for all users, and the well-designed new Flickr is actually pretty awesome. (And I wonder how much of this was an effort to prove to Tumblr and future acquisitions that Yahoo can be a good place to land?) A
Marissa Mayer has the chance to be the turnaround artist that never was. She looked great up there today, but as we saw with Bartz, charisma alone can’t move a sideways stock chart up. The question is, will Mayer-The-Chosen — to borrow some nerdy references she herself would appreciate — be Neo or Anakin?
What do you think of Mayer’s performance so far? Is Mayer really the Chosen One who will return Yahoo to its Y2K glory? Was the Tumblr acquisition a good move? I’m curious to hear your thoughts in the comments.