Kara Swisher

Recent Posts by Kara Swisher

Mayer Will Extend Free Food to NYC Too, While “What Is Yahoo?” Question Is Hereby Banish’d

New Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer descended on two of its New York offices today, declaring that she would summarily be granting free food to all there as she had recently done to much acclaim at its Silicon Valley HQ.

After firmly establishing herself as the munificent provider of free Odwalla juices for all, the former Google exec plunged into much more serious topics with the group of Manhattan-based employees. The New York staff is mostly focused on advertising — Yahoo’s most important business.

A number of Yahoo senior execs, as well as its several hundred others, were there to hear Mayer for the first time since she got the job about a month ago in a surprise and very high-profile hire, beating out media-focused candidate Ross Levinsohn.

In any case, Mayer seemed to be talking the language of the crowd, noting that Yahoo was an advertising company first and foremost.

A key area of focus is obviously display, she noted, as well as improving its ad network efforts. Mayer also told those gathered that the mobile strategy for Yahoo has moved around way too much, which is a nice way of saying there has been pretty much no direction under past CEOs.

Indeed, mobile efforts have been a longtime weakness of Yahoo.

Mostly, though, it was the same kind of things the energetic former Google exec has been saying to the Yahoos at its Sunnyvale HQ: Faster decisions, more accountability for top execs, hipper culture, all-hands meetings, question-rich involvement for employees.

In other words, in a performance coming soon to a Broadway theater: Google Clone — The Yahoo Edition.

One notable new aside Mayer made, several sources noted, was that she was not going to be answering the perennial query that has tripped up its leaders for years now: What is Yahoo?

She apparently does not like this line of inquiry one little bit and told the crowd it was not the right way to look at the long-troubled company or how to define it.

Now I am intrigued, since she is essentially correct in the concept that Yahoo is about what it does well more than anything else.

Not being able to execute has been a long-time issue for Yahoo, which has stumbled from one thing to the next in a much less disciplined manner than all of its competitors.

That said, every one of them still clearly communicates a basic core promise via strong execution, even as each has added on new businesses, for example:

Google = fab search, Amazon = top-notch retail, Apple = elegant devices, Microsoft = dominant Windows, Facebook = best social networking.

Yahoo — which ousted CEO Scott Thompson dubbed a technology-enabled media company (and he was right on that score) — has, of course, been about too many things, from a directory to an advertising service to a content provider and distributor.

Mucking up the works, though, have been a thousand other lesser efforts not done well and most of which have petered out.

In any case, the simple question of what Yahoo is has been banish’d for now, and Mayer will presumably not be answering that nettlesome query, even if it bubbles up on her nifty new interactive employee Q&A system.

But, if you really want to know, I can tell you exactly what it is at this moment in time and going forward: Yahoo is whatever Marissa Mayer says it will be.

More to come on exactly what that means.

Until then, here is my favorite quote from Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” about being banish’d:

Hence-banished is banish’d from the world, And world’s exile is death: then banished, Is death mis-term’d: calling death banishment, Thou cutt’st my head off with a golden axe, And smilest upon the stroke that murders me.


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— Kara Swisher and Walt Mossberg, in their farewell D post