Kara Swisher

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Exclusive: In Yet Another Internal Hire, Yahoo’s Mayer Makes Mann Search Head

Longtime Yahoo techie Laurence “Laurie” Mann, who has recently been SVP of engineering operations at the Silicon Valley Internet giant, has been given the new job of heading its search efforts, according to sources inside the company.

The appointment by CEO Marissa Mayer, also announced in an internal memo last week, puts Mann in a key position at Yahoo, given the need to fix its troubled search partnership with Microsoft, which was struck in 2010.

That is likely to come under great pressure in the days ahead, given that its performance has not been as expected, although that did improve in Yahoo’s most recent quarter.

Still, despite the improvement, Mayer called attention to the overall problem at a recent appearance at an investment conference.

“One of the points of the alliance is that we collectively want to grow share rather than just trading share with each other,” she said. “We need to see monetization working better, because we know that it can, and we’ve seen other competitors in the space illustrate how well it can work.”

By competitors, Mayer meant Google, whose share of the search market is close to 67 percent. Microsoft has just above 16 percent now, and Yahoo above 12 percent, a near flipping of share from two years ago.

Mann, who came to Yahoo in 2002, had been one of the execs at Yahoo who worked on the original deal under former CEO Carol Bartz, vetting the terms of the agreement for the company. While he has a degree from Canada’s University of Regina in business administration and computer science operations research, he is better known at the company for his deal-making and negotiating skills than as a techie or product exec.

That will be important, given that the end of the performance guarantee that Microsoft has had to pay to Yahoo since the partnership began comes in April.

Sources at Microsoft said the company is likely to extend the agreement without major concessions, but that any efforts to end the overall deal will be difficult for Yahoo.

“There is what [Yahoo] wants, and what’s possible,” said one person close to the situation.

In his new job, Mann will be in charge of improving the situation, which he has had some experience with. Mann, said one source, “used to spends hours at night on the phone with Microsoft trying to get concessions from their lack of RPS achievement,” referring to revenue per search.

Whether that means he can fix the situation — either by extricating Yahoo from the deal or improving Yahoo’s search experience to boost revenue and market share — is unclear. Mayer herself has a lot of search product chops from her time at Google, so she is expected to play a dominant role in the arena.

Another important effort for her, obviously, is still recruitment, given that a number of her choices for top product and tech jobs at Yahoo have been longtime veterans who were in place when the company was experiencing its continuing downward slide.

Among her options is buying a small search company, trying to end the Microsoft deal and perhaps strike another one with Google, or even reenter the search business with innovative engineers.

That is a big job. When Mayer was hired last summer, it was thought that she would bring in talent to reinvigorate Yahoo’s top echelons from outside the company.

But, for the most part, that has not happened, and she has appointed a lot of Yahoo’s longtime veterans to important roles in the turnaround.

For example, Mayer brought back Jay Rossiter to run platforms, appointed Scott Burke to head advertising tech, and now has put Mann into a top job in search — all of whom report directly to her on her executive staff.

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Another gadget you don’t really need. Will not work once you get it home. New model out in 4 weeks. Battery life is too short to be of any use.

— From the fact sheet for a fake product entitled Useless Plasticbox 1.2 (an actual empty plastic box) placed in L.A.-area Best Buy stores by an artist called Plastic Jesus