Monday, June 22, 2015

BOOK REVIEW: Marissa Mayer and the Fight to Save Yahoo! by Nicholas Carlson


ABOUT THE BOOK (from Amazon):

A page-turning narrative about Marissa Mayer's efforts to remake Yahoo as well as her own rise from Stanford University undergrad to CEO of a $30 billion corporation by the age of 38.

When Yahoo hired star Google executive Mayer to be its CEO in 2012 employees rejoiced. They put posters on the walls throughout Yahoo's California headquarters. On them there was Mayer's face and one word: HOPE. But one year later, Mayer sat in front of those same employees in a huge cafeteria on Yahoo's campus and took the beating of her life. Her hair wet and her tone defensive, Mayer read and answered a series of employee-posed questions challenging the basic elements of her plan. There was anger in the room and, behind it, a question: Was Mayer actually going to be able to do this thing?

MARISSA MAYER AND THE FIGHT TO SAVE YAHOO! is the inside story of how Yahoo got into such awful shape in the first place, Marissa Mayer's controversial rise at Google, and her desperate fight to save an Internet icon.

In August 2011 hedge fund billionaire Daniel Loeb took a long look at Yahoo and decided to go to war with its management and board of directors. Loeb then bought a 5% stake and began a shareholder activist campaign that would cost the jobs of three CEOs before he finally settled on Google's golden girl Mayer to unlock the value lurking in the company. As Mayer began to remake Yahoo from a content company to a tech company, an internal civil war erupted.

In author Nicholas Carlson's capable hands, this riveting book captures Mayer's rise and Yahoo's missteps as a dramatic illustration of what it takes to grab the brass ring in Silicon Valley. And it reveals whether it is possible for a big lumbering tech company to stay relevant in today's rapidly changing business landscape.


Have you ever asked yourself, "What IS Yahoo?"  This is a question Yahoo executives have been trying to figure out for more than a decade.  This was one of my favorite quotes from the book:
He said "Google.” People wrote down “search.” He said “eBay” and they wrote “auctions.” After a few more companies, he said “Yahoo.” He collected the thirty pieces of paper on Yahoo. Everybody had a different word. What was Yahoo trying to be? No one inside the company knew anymore.
It was an aha! moment as I was reading.  It wasn't just me.  Nobody knows what Yahoo is anymore, including the employees!

Carlson takes the reader through the history of Yahoo - from the very beginning when it was created as a website directory by Jerry Yang and David Filo in January 1994 to its rapid growth and time period when Yahoo practically was the Internet to its long-term struggle to maintain relevant as the Internet seemed to grow up around it.

Although "Marissa Mayer" is in the title, this book is really about the history (and current state) of Yahoo.  Once all of that is laid out chronologically, including Yahoo's history of CEO failures, Carlson takes the reader through Mayer's personal background (including dating Larry Page, cofounder of Google), her beginning days at Yahoo where employees pinned up posters of her face with the word "HOPE" to the end of that honeymoon period and the beginning of her real struggle to keep Yahoo alive after Alibaba's IPO.  [If you just asked "What is Alibaba?" and/or "What is IPO?" This is all explained in detail in the book, but basically Alibaba is what has kept Yahoo afloat for the last several years.]

The book is not flattering toward Marissa Mayer, and yet it is not all out negative either. To me, it feels unbiased and realistic.  There is no doubt that Mayer is a hard worker and extremely talented.  But does she have the ability to "save" Yahoo?  Nobody knows yet, but Carlson keeps the reader on the edge of their seat the whole time.  The book is an easy read (even if you know very little about business).  I highly recommend this for anyone with an interest in business and particularly Yahoo.