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Yahoo: Help Us, Marissa Mayer. You're Our Only Hope

Yahoo’s CEO pick surprised everyone. Now for the hard part: Fixing the company
Yahoo: Help Us, Marissa Mayer. You're Our Only Hope
Illustration by 731; Photograph by Robyn Twomey/Corbis Outline

The Yahoo! board of directors is known throughout Silicon Valley as a leaky ship whose internal deliberations often turn up on blogs or in other media outlets. Aware of this reputation, the company’s four-member chief executive search team took precautions worthy of a John le Carré novel before meeting Google veteran Marissa Mayer for the first time last month. No one inside Yahoo was told, and the interview was conducted 10 miles away from headquarters in the Palo Alto offices of law firm Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom. When Mayer met with the entire Yahoo board in mid-July, the company’s directors were bused from Yahoo’s offices to another law firm on Page Mill Road in Palo Alto. The idea was to evade potential tails, and anyone who had figured out the first interviews had taken place at Skadden, according to a person briefed on the process who was not authorized to speak on the record. In a morning-long conversation, Mayer wowed the board, including hedge fund manager Daniel Loeb, whose agitations led to the ouster of previous CEO Scott Thompson over exaggerations on his résumé. And on July 16, Yahoo finally did something it hadn’t done in a very long time—it pleasantly surprised the world.

Mayer, 37, now becomes a celebrity CEO—the kind of leader whose every move draws scrutiny. She’s vivacious and hyperintelligent, with an unusually geeky laugh (a YouTube compilation of her guffaws has more than 250,000 views) and a reputation for obsessive focus on the details of product design. She was one of the first employees at Google, the company that first rode to prominence on Yahoo’s coattails as its search provider and then quickly surpassed it. Over the years Mayer ran Google’s search group, worked on products such as Gmail, and most recently led its maps and local division. Though a spot on Google’s top executive team eluded her, she’d always been one of the company’s best spokespeople.