Kara Swisher

Recent Posts by Kara Swisher

Marissa Mayer’s First Live Interview (Which ATD Had to Virtually Sneak Into): God. Family. Yahoo.

Tonight, new Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer gave her first public interview since becoming the leader of the troubled Silicon Valley Internet giant.

Not to cranky me, of course, but to the much more amenable Fortune magazine writer and editor Pattie Sellers, who hosted the former Google exec at a dinner in Palo Alto, Calif., as part of the magazine’s Most Powerful Women franchise.

Fortune recently put a glamour shot of Mayer on the cover, and Sellers also did a profile. Now, Mayer was ready to sit down to talk about Yahoo and more.

(I wish I could have reported from the event, and almost did. I had initially been invited to the dinner at the Garden Court Hotel for about 100 guests, mostly women. But I was then waitlisted, and then told by Sellers directly that I could not attend, as the editors had decided to close out outside media and only have Fortune staffers covering it.)

Whatever! I have my ways to liveblog it and do it faster than any magazine writer can — and none involve disguising myself as a cater-waiter or solely using the Twitter feed from Fortune. As if!

Here goes:

7:50 pm: After some lovely cocktails, the audience sits down at about 10 tables of nine people and starts in on the salad course.

Soon enough, the night starts off with a speech by a McKinsey partner (and presumable sponsor of the dinner), delivering some stats as part of a study of some sort about how businesses are using — or should be using — social tools.

More than 60 percent of knowledge workers spend time exchanging information … Social can deliver an estimated $1 trillion in value.

Big news! Not! Even! Slightly! Oh dear, please get to the opening act!

Finally, Sellers gives her intro of Mayer.

8:04 pm: Sellers notes that her conference had hosted Yahoo CEO Carol Bartz in 2010 (she was ousted in 2011), and in 2011 had Mayer when she was an exec at Google (she became Yahoo CEO this year).

Now, in 2012, Mayer is top dog at Yahoo, and the youngest CEO in the Fortune 500.

“Why don’t we just call this ‘the most powerful Yahoo dinner,’” jokes Sellers.

Why not!

Mayer — for those who care, and forgive me, since I am fashion-stupid — is wearing a black frock and some heeled Mary Janes. She gets big applause when Sellers notes that Yahoo stock is up 18 percent since Mayer became CEO.

Note: It did go down when she made a shareholder misstep early in her tenure, but has gone up since she repeated mobilemobilemobile with confidence on a recent earnings call that got investors excited about her tenure.

8:08 pm: By the way, Mayer put in a call for people to vote for her as Time magazine’s Person of the Year (she is on the list of nominees — more kudos from a Time Inc. property).

Mayer starts off with basic PR messaging that she trotted out previously on the recent earnings call, around how she wants Yahoo to be focused on “delighting and engaging users” and how it is a brand that touches people every day.

Therefore, its products need to be inspiring and delightful.

Daily delight! This is the buzzword.

Also, she notes, Yahoo should be the bestest place to work.

As apparent proof of that, Mayer says that all Research In Motion BlackBerry smartphones have been banished, and that Yahoos will be using Apple’s iPhones, Google’s Android phones and Microsoft’s Windows phones.

This has been endlessly reported, even though most other Internet companies do this, but it’s a good line, anyway.

8:12 pm: By the way, iPhones are the most popular with Yahoo employees.

News at 11! (I will add that iPhones are the most popular with the Swisher boys, too, and — irony alert — one of their moms works at Google.)

Sellers then asks about what makes a good product, which is precisely why the product-savvy Mayer was brought in to fix Yahoo.

Says Mayer: “Acute user need.”

I acutely need doughnuts. Does this count?

Also, says Mayer, products have to be created in a way that is “frictionless and beautiful,” and that the offering cannot get in the consumer’s way.

Sellers asks her to name a great product. Mayer notes that she was not talking acquisitions, but quickly namechecks the iPhone and Google.

Since those companies’ market caps are a billionty times bigger than Yahoo’s, she def cannot acquire anything there.

8:17 pm: Mayer also apparently likes some kind of luxury paper made in Germany that looks like velvet. It’s Gmund, by the way.

The topic moves on to Flickr, the once hip photo-sharing service that Yahoo bought and proceeded to ignore. Meanwhile, Instagram.

Mayer says that Yahoo needs to focus on the “global suite” services that are excellent, and on executing them well.

She points out Yahoo’s fantasy football service, mentioning its recent breakdown on game day that sent fans into a tizzy.

It’s a they-love-us-so-much-they-hate-us point.

Yahoo will not do things like online maps, though, Mayer says, noting that where Yahoo cannot compete, it should partner.

Sellers asked about acquisitions.

Mayer: Mobilemobilemobile! (It worked before!)

8:22 pm: Mayer then mentions the importance of small teams that work together, such as its recent Stamped purchase.

She notes that the bigger and more strategic opportunities are around advertising technology. Calling the Rubicon Project!

Mayer veers away from a question about layoffs, a sad Yahoo tradition. I have reported previously that she will make cuts via performance reviews.

At Yahoo, she says, it’s now about performance, not potential: “No offense to potential, but what we really care about now is performance.”

No offense taken!

Also, everyone’s goals will be posted on the Yahoo Web site for everyone to see.

Oh, wait, there will surely be offense taken by those lazy potential people at Yahoo.

Mayer does add that Yahoo should be a “growth company,” and not one defined by cuts.

8:28 pm: “The consumer Internet is growing, and we need to invest,” she says.

To achieve this will be a hard job, and will take multiple years, she adds.

Sellers asks about the Disney turnaround, which Mayer is apparently fascinated with. Mayer does indeed love Disney.

Who doesn’t? (Well, me, but I am an outlier.)

Speaking of Disney, one of its directors, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, sent regrets, but has emailed a question from its board meeting in New York.

Sandberg once worked at Google with Mayer, though the pair is still not working on a search engine together.

Sandberg asks what was most surprising to Mayer about taking over at Yahoo.

Mayer says she thought the job would be hard, and her new baby would be fun. Mayer had her first child at the end of September.

“The job is fun, and the baby is easy,” says Mayer.

Sellers wants to know how Mayer gets it all done. The answer: “Ruthlessly prioritize.”

She notes that that’s why she has not talked to the media at all, and why she will not be talking after this event.

(Well, I guess I will go back to not waiting by the phone for Yahoo PR to call back. Hi Anne! — also looking forward to not getting the holiday media party invite, which is no prob as the Googlers are throwing one the same night and they usually have organic arugula picked by elves they employ that’s acutely delicious.)

Then, as a Wisconsin Green Bay Packers fan, Mayer does her version of the famous Vince Lombardi quote: “God. Family. Yahoo.”

Cheesehead moment! And Mayer and I have so much in common! Mine is: Dog. Family. Yahoo.

8:33 pm: Sellers throws in one more question from famed investor Warren Buffett, who apparently wants to know what, if Mayer was not CEO of Yahoo, would she want to run?

Not Berkshire Hathaway! Mayer says she would build something herself.

It seems as if that is what she is doing at Yahoo, so we await the result.

Until then, Mayer’s mum. So to speak.


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When AllThingsD began, we told readers we were aiming to present a fusion of new-media timeliness and energy with old-media standards for quality and ethics. And we hope you agree that we’ve done that.

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