The past few years have not been kind to Yahoo.
The Internet company founded by Stanford graduate students was the one to beat in the late 1990s. But it went south in the dot-com bust and has struggled against Google and Facebook ever since.
All that could change with the announcement this week of one of the best-kept secrets in business.
Yahoo hired a new CEO: Marissa Mayer, one of the first employees of Google and its first female engineer. She managed its search engine before leading the development of signature products like Google News, Gmail, and Google Maps.
Mayer is only 37 years old. While that is not especially young for a CEO in the tech world, it is young for Yahoo. The company’s five previous CEOs and its latest interim CEO were all older than Mayer when they took the position, some by over a decade.
Yahoo followed one of my personal tenets in choosing Mayer, as I discuss in “The Art of Being Unreasonable”—bright and young often beats age and experience. I expect that Mayer will inject an energetic and fresh vision into the company, just as my successor at SunAmerica did when he took over. At the time, Jay Wintrob was just 40.
Critics have already noted that Mayer has not been a CEO before. I was a young CPA when I started a homebuilding company at age 23. I had never held a hammer, but I didn’t have to. I hired people who were skilled at building homes. The skills that are required to lead a company go far beyond producing the product. An effective CEO needs to set the vision, energize the troops to deliver on that vision and generate Wall Street support for the company.
I’ve never met Mayer, but I congratulate her on her new position and offer this advice: be artfully unreasonable, and you’re sure to go far.