Commentary

Checklist: What Marissa Mayer Might Do Next

There are a great many words already written, and there are more to come on the subject of Marissa Mayer’s appointment as CEO of Yahoo!

With that in mind, it seems appropriate to comment not so much on the appointment itself, but on what she might do in the role.

While the appointment is undoubtedly an interesting one, a change from what has characterized recent history at the company, Mayer remains unproven as a CEO. Her ability to transition into the role and let go of the reins on the kind of projects she has championed in a hands-on fashion at Google will be key. A CEO that is pro-active, involved and inspirational is good. A CEO that is a micro-manager is a burden.

Accepting that some of what follows will inevitably be wrong, think of it as a partial checklist. It combines the things that the new CEO of Yahoo! would need to do -- whoever it was -- with the things that seems likely Mayer will do, based on her track record.

Rally the troops – After being battered by wayward management, declining revenues and successive layoffs, morale is suffering. One of the key priorities will be to take advantage of essentially a celebrity business hire to infuse optimism and energy, coupled with a clear enunciation of how to make Yahoo! meaningful, reflecting where the industry is going. 

People need to feel confident and valued in a way they likely haven’t.  Better still, they need to be motivated and excited about the prospects of being at the company.  This is something any new CEO seeks to do in some measure, but the need here is greater. Meyer will have a lot of goodwill to help her take advantage of her honeymoon period.

Build a Team – While raising the morale of the incumbent team is one thing, there will be a commensurate need to bring in key team members to turn the business around and to deliver against market expectations.  Mayer has a seemingly universally well-regarded track record at Google, but she’s not held the reins as a CEO before.

She’ll need support to pull in the people necessary to complement her strengths and to take the lead in areas where she will no longer have time to take day-to-day responsibility.  She will need a strong sales head on the team and a design and product innovation team to support her.  Based on Yahoo!’s current product and its record in these areas, it’s likely an influx of talent will be necessary.  The ability to attract them won't prove a challenge. Hopefully, she’ll do a great job in allowing them to work to their fullest potential and retain them.

Attend to the core product – Quite frankly, from a user experience perspective, the current product is something of a dog’s breakfast.  It’s neither clean, clear nor inspiring as an interface -- and it looks and feels old-fashioned for the Web.  This needs to be changed quickly to demonstrate the old order is out and a new regime is taking hold.  An investment in content wouldn’t go amiss, either.

Supercharge Mobile – Yahoo! Is not alone in being somewhat slow to establish a strong mobile presence and it has a better set of excuses than some (notably Facebook).  But now there is an increasing amount of movement in the space, the company needs to catch up and distinguish itself –- but in a way that will drive revenues. It’s easier said than done, but without sustainable innovation in this space, the markets are unlikely to be as positive about Mayer’s appointment in a couple of years as they are now.

Sort out Search – Although Yahoo! Built much of its historic equity on the basis of its search product, it definitely languishes in the market now.  One could make the case that the mission to rectify the situation is a major factor in bringing Mayer on board. Who better to fight Google than someone so imbued with the culture? 

So expect to see some radical moves in the next 18 months in how Yahoo! delivers the search experience to consumers and tadvertisers. Design changes are obvious, but new concepts, more cross-platform integration and the potential for mergers and collaborations are in the offing.

Build Value – Underpinning everything is the ever-present need to build ongoing value in the business to appease the markets.  Whatever the strategy, Yahoo! has to avoid becoming a take-over target, while ideally positioning itself to buy others or make deals that take it beyond its current iteration. 

With the world of Connected TV and tablets gaining ground and the business models associated with mobility taking shape, a dynamic leader of a large and historically strong brand with little to lose has a broad canvas upon which to make dramatic change and spur real growth. If Mayer can do this while matching revenue expectations on Wall Street, she’ll rightly be hailed as the savior of Yahoo!

These, of course, are just a few of the things on Ms. Mayer’s plate this week.  Another, equally challenging one, will be ensuring she gets some quality time with her baby when it arrives.  Personally, I hope she succeeds in all of her objectives, but especially the last one.

Tags: management, yahoo
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