One news story that is of particular interest to me right now is Marissa Mayer’s new tenure as CEO of Yahoo. What I find so interesting about her challenge is that for an executive who has made her name so clearly on the strength of her engineering and design capabilities, and for a company so desperate to bolster its engineering and design strength, the consensus seems to be that her most pressing challenge will be cultural in nature.
To transform the company.... she, personally, will have to channel her energy towards people, not products.
Mayer finds herself in a difficult set of circumstances. On the one hand, she’s a perfectly logical, solution-oriented choice to lead Yahoo’s effort to create technology products that matter to current and future users, and compete with companies like Facebook and Google. She’s shown this strength time and again with her roles in launching everything from Google Search, to Google Maps, and Google Talk ("gchat"). Clearly, she has some of that special “Jobs-ian” design intuition when it comes to the tech “stuff” itself.
But Yahoo won’t become a haven of innovation simply because it has an innovator at the top. To transform the company from today’s shrinking (yet behemoth) status quo, to her future vision, she, personally, will have to channel her energy towards people, not products.
The company will need to clearly change the experience it offers to employees, users and recruits alike if it wants to credibly follow-up on Mayer’s hiring and legitimize its reputation as an innovator. Her arrival is a good start, but without visceral changes that shift key stakeholders beliefs, she may get caught spinning her tires. I’m interested to see how it plays out.