Y ahoo CEO Marissa Mayer is expected to unveil the company’s cost-cutting plan, rumored to eliminate 15% of the company’s workforce, the Wall Street Journal reported today. Given the mounting pressure from Wall Street and the sharp jab made by activist investors Starboard Value now wanting Mayer to step down from her role, Mayer’s role at Yahoo has been under scrutiny for some time now. Having been branded ‘boring’ by The New Yorker, she returns four years later with a plan for cuts as opposed to investments and a clear strategic direction for the future – so what went wrong and could we have seen it coming?
Mayer’s case is a classic Glass-Cliff scenario; non-traditional CEOs (read: women) hired in bad times, only to be replaced with a white male and for the female to take the blame. As aptly summarised by Forbes, Yahoo is a troubled company, having gone through a total of 5 CEOs over the last 15 years and the company itself changing rapidly from a directory, to a portal, to an undefined technology brand chasing the same glamour its competitors have now adopted long ago. By bringing in a woman to clean up the mess of their past indiscretions, Mayer’s task to save a potentially dying company is a serious gamble. At one point, Ben Ling of Kholsa Ventures and former Google colleague mentioned how Mayer had made Yahoo an “attractive place for top talent to work”. However, having spent $1million on a ‘Big Red Book’ to cultivate her vision for Yahoo to its employees, women in business could take the fall if she fails. We already see the news columns dissecting her every move; concluding that she was ‘too emotional’ to stand the pressure, having forgotten that she did a phenomenal job at a near-impossible task regardless of the eventual outcome.
While Mayer has always been clear about the struggle, her method of fixing the issue could lie in activist investors. At a time where they hold more power in executive suites and boardrooms than ever before, the growth that never happened as promised by Mayer in 2012 still could be saved, bearing in mind Mayer never feigned ignorance and always openly spoke about the natural fluctuating cycle of internet companies. Having a woman in the role of CEO brings the unspoken advantages of clear communication, emotional sensitivity and continuous re-evaluation, which in an all-male investor environment, may be what Yahoo needs right now. If she can justify her cuts through better future performance and manoeuvre her skills to her advantage with investors, we may all be eating our words in the months to come.