Friday, July 20, 2012

How Marissa Mayer Became Wayne Gretzky

So the top story in this week's news around here was Marissa Mayer taking over as CEO of Yahoo. Sarah Lacy had a nice look at the situation with, Why on Earth Did Marissa Mayer Say Yes to Yahoo? All in all, part of what made this such big news is just how unexpected this is. You've got all of the right elements for a great story.

First there's the Yahoo story: 
Once dominant Internet company, stumbling through repeated leadership challenges. So much potential (users, technology, brand), if it could just find the right missing ingredients to keep it's leadership position in today's market.

Then there's Marissa Mayer:
Technology celebrity/rock star with some big trophies from one of the dominant Internet companies of the 2000's. Sort of a female Buckaroo Banzai, she was a notable player on the team that repeatedly beat Yahoo in those championship games of several years back. In that way, she is a nod to accepting that strategic wrong turn that Yahoo took so many years ago -- 'if we had just gone that way, WE would have been Google.'

It's that sort of 'bring in a star to build a dream team' solution that makes so much sense in a theoretical world, but doesn't always play out in reality. Here's a great example.

The Great One
Years ago, the St. Louis Blues found themselves in playoff series after playoff series, but were unable to unable to win the cup. This despite having one of the top goal scoring forwards, Brett Hull. When St. Louis traded for Wayne Gretzky, there was this idea floated that, not only had they added this missing ingredient that would carry them through to the Stanley Cup, but we should also be prepared to be blown away by the combination of Gretzky and Hull. But it didn't happen. Chemistry, it turns out, is more than the sum of a couple of great ingredients.

Marissa Mayer may face a similar situation at Yahoo. Sure, there are all of the things that you can say make for a perfect fit, but the challenges that Yahoo faces are probably deeper and more entrenched than what you see on the surface. More often than not, the myth of a single hero as a solution to a systematic challenge is just that, a myth. Ultimately, only time will tell if there is real chemistry here... and real change.

No comments: