Kara Swisher

Recent Posts by Kara Swisher

Ten Questions for New Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer (This Won’t Hurt a Bit! Okay, Just a Little.)

Today will be Marissa Mayer’s first day at Yahoo as its newest fearless leader.

Besides Yahoos sighing collectively at the prospect of yet another all-hands meeting to get a gander at their latest CEO — “I should be excited, but I really can’t take another new org,” said one exhausted staffer at the news, in a common refrain — how she presents herself to investors will be on display in the company’s second-quarter earnings call later today.

Yahoo is expected to report unremarkable results, but the real draw should be to see how much Mayer will talk.

Given that she just came on board, it is unlikely Mayer will have much to say of any substance, and it’s probably in her best interest to say as little as possible until she gets the lay of the troubled land at Yahoo.

In fact, the less said the better, in order to dramatically lower expectations of exactly what she can pull off. Let’s be honest — the golden can-do-anything glow of Google only goes so far after leaving the Borg (see: Tim Armstrong and AOL).

And while the board wants to take its bows for managing to attract such a tech media star, and after all the noise dies down, heads down is probably the best choice; for a while, at least.

Still, I have a few questions for Mayer, with many more to come.

(FYI, I permanently live in the air vent above your office, and I ain’t going anywhere, no matter who the CEO of Yahoo is, and no matter what bare-knuckled assistant — Hey, Judy! Hi, Roxie! — is deployed to try kill me.).

So, here goes:

1. How will you attract much-needed talent to Yahoo to help you reinvigorate the company and return the innovation it sorely needs in its product offerings?

It’s one thing to say look-world-I’m-here, and quite another to make a cogent argument to Silicon Valley’s best and brightest to come join Yahoo over much more promising start-ups and even big companies. What is the principal selling point you’ll use to get people to board what I used to refer to as the S.S. Yangtanic?

2. That said, how willing are you to make the kind of serious cuts in workforce that Yahoo needs to allow it to truly push the “restart” button?

Previous CEOs have all made painful but useless stabs at employee reduction, but they have come up short of what really needs to be done to make the company the correct size and shape to spur new growth. All told, Yahoo still has at least 5,000 — if not 7,500 — more workers than its growth can support.

3. What senior management team are you going to bring into the company, and who are you going to keep?

Executive leadership at Yahoo has been a bit unstable, to say the least, as each new CEO has taken too much time to suss out a new organization. The poor minions under those exec dandies have suffered badly, due to the incessant musical chairs.

Will you simply staff it up with ex-Googlers, as some expect, or will you do serious M&A to bring in fresh talent?

4. What products is Yahoo going to specialize in and, more importantly, what is it going to cut under your regime?

Under Jerry Yang, Yahoo was going to be an advertising tech company; under Carol Bartz, the focus was on data delivery; Scott Thompson was going for commerce; and Ross Levinsohn was planning on betting on media, until you hipchecked him from interim status.

(I actually cry when I think of Yahoo’s near-abandonment of mobile.)

In truth, Yahoo has far too many products it does badly, and too few it does well, even starving its most important and differentiating offerings, such as Yahoo Finance. Having had your clock cleaned by that site when you headed Google’s competing attempt, for example, do you believe you can focus Yahoo into doing only what it does best?

5. Speaking of a three-ring circus: How are you going to handle the active machinations of the new Yahoo board?

While you might have welcomed their go-go behavior when the directors hired you, their job is now to sit down and let you do the work you were hired to do. How will you ensure that they will butt out, and that you don’t have to take endless backseat driving from big shareholders and directors such as Daniel Loeb of Third Point?

More importantly, how much time has the board given you to pull off a serious turnaround? While time is now of the essence, given how much senseless diddling the various leadership crises have resulted in, you do need more than a year to make a difference. I would say at least four.

6. Will you continue the efforts to discuss an ad partnership with Google? While it’s good that you know all the search behemoth’s tricks (heck, you invented a few) and how they operate, making such a deal happen is very difficult, and is fraught with regulatory landmines.

And, for you, negotiating with your ex-colleagues could either be easy or like painful dental surgery.

Also something to think about: What will happen to your search partnership with Microsoft, which has turned out to be a dud?

Lastly, now that Levinsohn has struck a patent deal with Facebook, how do you look at the social networking site going forward as a partner? Or are they inevitably your rival for consumers? (By the way, glad to know you turned to Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg for advice on this job.)

7. Do you have a computer science degree? Wait, forget that, because you are apparently a genius. But, given the Scott Thompson bio mess, I had to ask!

In fact, I am sure you are a techie’s techie, since one of my better memories of you is when you told me you were celebrating being a billion seconds old, which is 31.7 years in regular-people speak. Here’s what I actually was thinking to myself at the time, as you attempted to explain it to me: What. An. Incredible. Geek.

8. Speaking of other nerds, who is Yahoo’s competition going forward? Google’s race of aliens? Facebook’s troop of oversharers? A bunch of start-ups that make cool stuff that is really small in concept? Fretful media companies? Even more flummoxed telcos?

Again, I ask because this goes directly to the vision thing at Yahoo, or lack thereof.

It is a very big job you have now, and in a very intense spotlight. While you have never been shy to be out there in the media, this new job is not the same thing as posing for a cute magazine cover and telling stories of your quirky work practices.

Defining Yahoo’s purpose and relevance in this much-changed world it now lives in is perhaps Job #1, and it is a definition that has flummoxed past leaders.

9. Can I use this opportunity to beg you not to overdo it on the purple clothing, and saying you will bleed purple? It’s been adorkable over the years, but it’s a new day, and it has to be a new Yahoo. Your hardest-working employees deserve more than just bromides about making a comeback via color commitment.

Actually, there is no such thing as that in reality, but there is such a thing as changing and evolving into the next phase of life. Just like you are doing now.

10. Want to have lunch? I can charge it to Rupert Murdoch, even!

And I’ll make you a deal if you’ll join me: I will plague you with nabbing fewer internal memos, if you will actually do more than move around the deck chairs on what has been the slowest-sinking boat in tech history.

The good will over your hiring all over tech has to do in part with you, and in part with a hope that Yahoo is not headed for the dustbin of Internet history, and that it can reinvent itself to fight another day.

After all, in tech, tomorrow is always another day.


Latest Video

View all videos »

Search »

The problem with the Billionaire Savior phase of the newspaper collapse has always been that billionaires don’t tend to like the kind of authority-questioning journalism that upsets the status quo.

— Ryan Chittum, writing in the Columbia Journalism Review about the promise of Pierre Omidyar’s new media venture with Glenn Greenwald