Marissa Mayer struck me as the kind of person who is so relentless in her quest to reach her potential, that she won’t let anything stop her. Yet she comes off as warm and thoughtful at the same time. A unique blend of get-out-of-my-way determination mixed with I’ll-do-anything-to-serve-my-people. Felt like somebody took lots of common-sense thinking, added true insights about technology and psychology, and then poured it all into Marissa’s head.
For the record, I don’t know her, and I’ve never worked for her, so for all I know she just comes across this way in interviews. I’ve learned that some CEO’s are very good at charming you when in public, but when you start working for them they don’t practice what they preach.
On to what she actually said:
1. Mobile is the future, and Yahoo is now a Mobile-First company.
When she first took the reins at Yahoo, she was talking to one of the folks on the mobile team. She was new, and was just figuring out more about the different parts of the company. “How many folks on the team?” she asked. The employee answered, 40. Marissa’s draw dropped. She said, “I’m not very good at a poker-face, so I must have looked completely shocked.” The person quickly tried to comfort her, “Well, that’s just on this team. There are other mobile developers scattered throughout the company.”
Her: “How many?”
Employee: “Around 100, including this team.”
Her: ”Is that 100, or really closer to 60 to make me feel better?”
Employee: “Closer to 60….. <sheepish grin>”
Marissa left that meeting, sounded the alarm, and over the next 12 months scaled the mobile team from 60 to 400. Wow.
It is my completely biased opinion that she is 100% right (my company does mobile app development). Everything is going mobile. Ev-ery-thing.
2. Focus obsessively on the user, and on design, user experience, and interaction design.
Her punch-line on this point: “Many elements of Yahoo are about entertaining people. How can you entertain somebody if you don’t provide a beautiful, easy-to-use, and delightful experience??”
She hits it on the head. One of the changes she made to make sure this is a top-priority at Yahoo: the head of design at Yahoo reports directly to her. This critical piece of product-development is now a core piece of the company’s strategy. As it should be! Salesforce, can you hear me? (To Marc Benioff’s credit, Salesforce does appear to be attempting a move in this direction. He recently made some big design hire’s, and his VP of Design now reports directly to him).
3. Hire people who are better than you
Of her team, she said, “I have confidence that anybody on my executive team could trade places with me, and be just as effective. And same with them, I could take their place. I try to find the very best people I can, and go from there.”
And throughout the interview, I counted a half-dozen times where she deflected credit. “Oh, it’s not me, it’s this great team I have that did that.” Super-classy.
4. Great managers and leaders clear a path.
As a leader or manager, you don’t do things. You clear a path. You hire people that are awesome, better than you whenever possible. And then you figure out how to get out of their way, and get everybody else out of their way.
You cut through bureaucracy, you fight the political battles, etc.
5. Use technology for democratic experimentation
Imagine Reddit meets board-meeting-prep. This describes an experiment at Yahoo to create more transparency. Anybody with a concern can create a new “board meeting topic,” and then others vote on and discuss these ideas.
Marissa said when she first told the board about the idea, the response was, “We love it.”
She thinks the program has become popular inside the company, and helps to bring more ideas to the table. Interesting use of technology.
6. Prioritization. Do it.
Marc asked her, “How do you do it all? You network, you volunteer, you have a family, you run Yahoo.”
Marissa said, “Well, I’m glad that it appears that way. But it’s definitely not like that from my view. You know, it’s all about prioritization, which is something I am not that good at. But I’ll always remember what a friend in college told me. She said, ‘Every morning I write down all my day’s tasks, from Most Important to Least Important. If I ever get to the bottom of my todo list, it means I haven’t been working on enough high-priority stuff.’
“I like that. That’s what I try to do.
“Really, I only have time for Family & Yahoo. If I get to anything else, it’s a bonus.”
Refreshing for her honesty. We’re only human, and we can only do so much in a 24-hour day.