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Mayer Shines At Yahoo After Spotlight Dimmed At Google


Yahoo yesterday announced a redesign of some of its major sites, the latest step in CEO Marissa Mayer's dramatic turnaround of the company. Since she took the helm last year, Yahoo's stock has surged. And a leading industry measure recently showed Yahoo topping Google in the number of website visits - which is something, since Marissa Mayer jumped to Yahoo after years of being a top player at Google.

As the rare woman high up in the tech industry, it was a career move that got a lot of press. What many didn't know was that just before Mayer joined a stumbling Yahoo, her career had been stalled. Nicholas Carlson writes about this in a profile of Mayer on the online news site Business Insider. Thanks for joining us.

NICHOLAS CARLSON: It's my pleasure to be here.

MONTAGNE: So let's start with the fact that Marissa Mayer is something of a corporate rock star. Even before she joined Yahoo, she was a celebrity in Silicon Valley. But you write that at Google - just before she joined Yahoo - she had essentially been demoted. What's the thumbnail of that?

CARLSON: The reason people in the industry really viewed it as a demotion is because when you think of Google, you think of Google search. And Marissa Mayer's job, for many years at Google, was making sure the search page looked great and all of the associated products. And so after that, though, she was moved off of search. And so while it was technically a parallel move, she was no longer in charge of the way Google's most important product looked, and the way it got 95 percent of its revenues.

MONTAGNE: The reason for that, as you describe it in your article, seems to be that as brilliant as she had been at Google, in terms of the product - figuring out what users wanted to know and do - she had not a huge interest in the business side.

CARLSON: Right. So Marissa Mayer had a lot of peers at Google who joined around the same time as her, and they would go to meetings that would be about things beyond their own purview. So Marissa Mayer would pretty much stick to meetings that had to do with products that she cared about, and then some of her peers would stick around for business reviews of the entire suite of Google products. And Mayer didn't really have a lot of interest in that, and she stuck to exactly what her focus was; which, to be fair, was her charge. Her job was to worry about the way the product looked, and manage product managers. She just didn't have this sort of extra ambition to understand the rest of Google's business. And it probably cost her, in the end.

MONTAGNE: If she wasn't, in a sense, shining as much at Google, why did Yahoo's board bring her in for an interview in the first place?

CARLSON: Outside of Google, she was still known for her tremendous success with the Google search products. And she really is just a crossover rock star. I mean, she is widely known, and I think that had a really strong appeal to the Yahoo board. And really, also, her track record with products - I mean, she is a remarkable product executive.

MONTAGNE: So the website visits are up. But what about revenues; is Yahoo making more money?

CARLSON: Yahoo is not really making more money yet under Marissa Mayer. But Marissa Mayer has done an amazing - had an amazing career in her 20s and 30s. But you know, she's turning 40 in the next couple years. And the big question for those years will be, can she kind of overcome what held her back at Google - which is this lack of enthusiasm, necessarily, for the business side of things. She's brilliant. She gets it; she understands it.

But can she bring as much energy to that and focus to that, to really becoming one of these once-in-a-generation executives like Steve Jobs, for example, who both understands this is how the iPhone should look, and this is how we should sell it. Can she be Mark Zuckerberg, who found a brilliant business executive in Sheryl Sandberg, to worry about how Facebook makes money. So she either needs to become a Sheryl Sandberg herself, or she needs to hire the right Sheryl Sandberg. And her big challenge, going forward, is becoming a complete technology business executive.

MONTAGNE: Nicholas Carlson is chief correspondent at Business Insider. His recent profile is called, "The Truth About Marissa Mayer: An Unauthorized Biography." Thanks very much for joining us.

CARLSON: It was my pleasure. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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