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The Fuss About Marissa Mayer

You may have seen the article on LinkedIn about how Marissa Mayer, Yahoo!’s highly-lauded CEO since 2012, saved Yahoo!. The article is mostly an excerpt from Nicholas Carlson’s tell-all book detailing some of the steps Mayer took to bolster Yahoo! It claims, in no uncertain terms, that Mayer is the hero of the hour for Yahoo!

And across the Internet, it seems that many agree. Yahoo! reported a higher-than-expected Q3 this past year, according to the Silicon Valley Business Journal, attributing some of this to a growth in display ads on mobile devices. Although the Yahoo!/Bing Search conglomerate is a far cry from competing with Google, it now holds 26.3% of US search spend, while Google has 73.7%.

If you ask The Cut, Forbes, Business Insider, and even Vogue, to name a few, we’re all a little fascinated by this power woman, Marissa Mayer. In his article, Carlson details the first few days of Mayer’s Yahoo! takeover and paints her as a stern professor type who has high expectations for her employees and demanding visions for the success of Yahoo!

But as someone who has been somewhat oblivious to anything happening with Yahoo!, I had to wonder what exactly the company has been up to since Mayer took over in 2012. And even with an ambitious leader at the helm, could Yahoo! ever be cool again?

Yahoo!’s Last Few Years

In the beginning of her reign as queen of Yahoo!, Mayer was faced with the challenge of reconstructing Yahoo’s deteriorating image. Carlton’s article talks about Mayer’s demand for quality rather than speed of development (although she wants both), and Slate quotes Mayer a few years back as saying, “People, then products, then traffic, then revenue.” I’m with you, Marissa.

But in the two years since Mayer took over at Yahoo!, the CEO has received her share of criticism for being too flashy. In a piece for the New York Times, Nicholas Carlson (say what? Carlson, again?) writes about the growing belief that Mayer should really just sell Yahoo! and allow it be absorbed by someone else. Rumor has it that the Yahoo! board of directors may agree with Jackson on this one.

But others in the industry continue to defend Mayer for knowing which aspects to prioritize and which to cut or put on the back burner — for instance, Jeff Minich, a former Yahoo! employee, in an August 2014 article for Business Insider. Even though he was initially not on board with many of them. Her infamous layoffs were unpopular because she got rid of some key players, but Minich admits that in hindsight, he sees her long-term strategy of using Yahoo’s resources to build a new monetization platform that would help the company eventually be independent. Says Minich: “Could she have been more elegant and integrative in her approach? Probably. Is her new strategy working? Based on the last earnings report, I believe there are some compelling clues that it is.”

Yahoo!’s Trajectory

Predictions seem to be changing by the minute. But the CEO does seem to have a clear end goal — independence for Yahoo!.

In 2014, Yahoo!/Bing saw growth on the Search advertising side of things, with Bing Ads up 30% from where they were one year ago, and mobile ad clicks up 133%, according to David Pann of the Bing Ads blog. But from reports around the Internet, Mayer is looking to take Yahoo!’s momentum in a different direction.

Although Yahoo! is currently stuck in a contract with Bing for years to come, Mayer wants to ditch the partnership in favor of the freedom to move Yahoo! toward experimenting with more specialized type of contextual Search. Although Bing currently powers Yahoo! Search, breaking free from this would also give her the freedom to make Yahoo! product and Yahoo! Search dovetail better with one another.

A company is more than its CEO. Are we reading tales of Mayer’s heroism and deluding ourselves with the idea that one person can turn everything around? Even Carlson admits that “While Yahoo’s products have undeniably improved, and its culture has become more innovative, it’s unlikely that Mayer can reverse an inevitability unless she creates the next iPod.”

But with Mayer’s background as a strong leader of key Google products and an instrumental role in their growth and success, it’s unlikely that she will want to settle for mediocrity without a fight. By making decisions to boost Yahoo!’s ability to generate its own revenue, and by working toward independence for the company, Mayer may indeed pull off something that we never thought possible: making Yahoo! cool again.

Only time will tell..

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