The Marissa Mayer Yahoo Show, Brought to You by Daniel Loeb
The appointment of Marissa Mayer as CEO of Yahoo earlier today was a definitively splashy move by the board of the troubled Internet giant.
And a key impresario of the showy hiring of the high-profile Google exec? None other than Yahoo’s former foe now turned driving force Daniel Loeb of the Third Point hedge fund.
It was classic Loeb style — brash, quick and done with an eye to the optics of the move as well as its impact.
The selection of the high-profile Mayer was unanimous among the Yahoo directors, who have now clearly gone in a product direction over a media one, represented by interim CEO Ross Levinsohn.
The choice came down to Mayer or Levinsohn and, in this, there really was no choice to speak of given her much more honed tech and product pedigree.
Mayer was integral to the early days of Google especially, in charge for a long time over its search product. More recently, though, she had been working on local efforts.
But, it was notable to many inside and outside the company that she did not get one of the key senior vice president nods at Google in a major reorg of the company under new CEO Larry Page.
“She was pretty much voted off the island, even though she was critical to its earliest successes,” said one person close to the situation.
Recently, multiple sources said she had been quietly seeking an exit from the search giant, including considering several venture firms. She also recently joined the board of retail giant Walmart.
Loeb, who had met Mayer relatively recently, was one of the key forces in pushing the board to consider aiming for someone of her level.
In fact, multiple sources said that he has become an influential voice — perhaps the most influential — on the board. While there has been a search committee run by director David Kenny, Loeb has also been actively buttonholing prospects, including focusing his early CEO search efforts on Hulu’s Jason Kilar.
That did not pan out, as Kilar withdrew himself from contention, but sources said Loeb kept pushing for a big name who would burnish Yahoo’s bruised reputation.
It’s all part of a series of efforts by the New York hedge fund head — who has been spending a lot of time of late trying to learn the complicated byways of Silicon Valley — to be more than just a smash-and-grab money man.
Loeb now owns close to six percent of Yahoo and is intent on reviving its prospects and, more importantly, its moribund stock.
And nabbing Mayer — who often appears in glossy magazine spreads, part of an effort that she has promoted that has made her the face of the search giant over the last decade — fits into that strategy well.
Indeed, Mayer will now be charged with the difficult task of creating innovative products to win at Yahoo going forward and even competing with Google in some arenas.
It’s clear she will attract talent, and is reportedly considering several other current and former Googlers to bring on board at Yahoo.
It will take a lot of such deep expertise, given Yahoo’s dicey prospects of late, with problems ranging from its advertising technology to weak morale to, perhaps most importantly, the continued lack of a clear strategic direction.
Whether Mayer can stem the tide is unclear, with some comparing her task to an even bigger version of the massive challenges and slow turnaround another former Googler, Tim Armstrong, has faced at AOL.
“Is she the Tim show, part 2, or can she remake Yahoo into a successful narrative going forward?,” said one person close to the situation.
One thing’s for certain: Today, at least, it was also the Dan Loeb show.