Kara Swisher

Recent Posts by Kara Swisher

What Will Marissa Do?: Mayer Set to Reveal Her Strategy to Troops This Week in an “Act of Radical Transparency” (Internal Memo!)

On Friday, I began a series about the various and sundry things new Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer was up to at the Silicon Valley Internet giant.

First up was a look at how she is zeroing in on improving its troubled search efforts and advertising platforms, two business arenas that will get more focus this week when Mayer unveils her plans to the employees of Yahoo at an all-hands meeting.

According to an internal memo Mayer sent out Friday, the confab is scheduled for Tuesday. It comes after two days of meetings with Yahoo’s board of directors last week, in which Mayer outlined the plans for she has come up with to turnaround the company.

[Special note to readers: I would, as usual, embed the entire memo below, but Yahoo’s top execs — most especially, newly installed general counsel Ron “Leaks Are ‘Uncool'” Bell — have worked themselves into quite a lather over the issue of late. Apparently, according to numerous sources, the company is using all kinds of leak-catching tech tools — free smartphones aren’t as free as you might think, if you catch my drift, Yahoos, and I would also advise turning up the music loud when whispering in the Sunnyvale HQ offices — so I will only quote internal emails only in part going forward to thwart such silliness.]

Pressing on!

In the memo, titled “Board slides, strategy and goals,” Mayer talked about the meetings. There will be two this Tuesday, one in the morning and one later in the day, in order to accommodate Yahoo staffers internationally.

“In an act of radical transparency that will be a tradition moving forward,” Mayer promised that she will go over the slides — which are usually not shared widely — of her “strategy and vision” that she presented at the board meeting on Friday.

“We want to offer you transparency into what happens at the board level as well as guidance as to where the company is going,” Mayer noted.

Kudos to that! (And send all that transparency my way, please!)

Mayer also said in the memo that she will have another all-hands meeting on October 1, where she will begin “rolling out a new system and process for goals for the company,” including annual goals that will be tracked and graded — first on a company level, then to departments, teams and, finally, individuals.

That’s a good idea, of course, because tracking such things has not been a focus of Yahoo for a while now. Not surprisingly, it is very much a practice at Google, from whence Mayer came and where she has been liberally borrowing a wide variety of management concepts.

But she has a few of her own tricks up her sleeve too, according to many sources, in terms of the strategy.

As I previously wrote, Mayer is planning on doubling down on search, as well as advertising platforms. Expect more money spent in both places, as well as a redo of Yahoo’s long-rocky search partnership with Microsoft.

Also up for a refresh is both email and also the critically important Yahoo home page. Both are being redesigned substantially to focus on consumer experience. People who have seen the mock-ups describe them both as more social and as more of a dashboard approach for users than the traditional catch-all portal.

It’s all based around learning technology that Yahoo has been working on called CORE, or Content Optimization and Relevance Engine. There will be lots of linking out and an attempt to make Yahoo more of a platform for others to develop on top of.

It’s a little Facebook-like, said several sources, but more focused on content and other products that differentiate Yahoo. Mayer has decided to back 10 key arenas, such as its powerful Yahoo Finance and Yahoo Sports sites, as well as its Flickr photo offering.

Still, no redesign is set in stone yet, so we’ll see what Mayer has decided on.

It’s also not clear what the e-commerce focus will be, but it is also an area that Mayer has a lot of experience in. Also a big question: What the heck is Yahoo’s non-existent mobile strategy going to be?

In addition, Mayer has already ordered the removal of some ads from both Yahoo’s email service and also its home page, cutting them back to improve the consumer experience. That’s a dicey move since Yahoo makes a big chunk of change from those ads, especially on the home page.

No matter. “Everything she is doing is about the consumer experience,” said a source. “Nothing else matters to her, even if it might matter to the bottom line.”

So far, Wall Street has been wary of Mayer until they see a strategy — the stock has been sitting in the $15 range since she arrived. That said, the high-profile exec does have more leeway from investors, and — perhaps most importantly — from the board.

In fact, at her now weekly Friday meeting for employees, a big group of the directors appeared onstage in a show of support.

A purple show, apparently — all were wearing lavender Yahoo t-shirts with “BoD” stamped on them.

Awwwwww! It’s like a mostly all-boy band! One, by the way, that might get more members soon. Sources told me that director Dan Loeb has been on the hunt to add at least one more person to the group, focusing on landing a Silicon Valley star.

When he was waging his proxy battle on Yahoo he tried to recruit both SurveyMonkey and former Yahoo David Goldberg and also well-known entrepreneur Max Levchin of PayPal and Slide.

While Goldberg joining the Yahoo board is not happening — he just joined the board of the Washington Post — getting Levchin to sign on seems more likely, especially with the focus on attracting innovative talent to the company.

Levchin is definitely that, as are many others Loeb has apparently been trying to buttonhole of late.

More on talent in our next episode.

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I think the NSA has a job to do and we need the NSA. But as (physicist) Robert Oppenheimer said, “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and argue about what to do about it only after you’ve had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.”

— Phil Zimmerman, PGP inventor and Silent Circle co-founder, in an interview with Om Malik