One question no one is asking about Yahoo's new CEO

Marissa Mayer has become an instant icon, but few have focused on her role at Google -- and whether that makes for a good fit at Yahoo

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A great media company or a mediocre tech company?

Yahoo long ago threw in the towel and stopped trying to be a search engine company. It's done little with Flickr and other acquisitions. What's left? Media. Yahoo is a media company, and that's one reason why interim CEO Ross Levinsohn was generally seen as the obvious choice to run the company. "A CEO who understands the media opportunity, and understands that in the world of media 'good enough' is good enough when it comes to technology, feels like the right leader for Yahoo," says Walrath.

I've read a lot about Mayer in the last few days, and I haven't seen anything that indicates she knows much about media. Why would she? She was an engineer at an engineering-driven company for much of her career. Yahoo is a company with a massive identity crisis, not a product crisis.

"Yahoo needs a strategic visionary, not a product engineer. Yahoo's fundamental problem is that it has too many disparate products with no clear unifying thread that ties them all together. And Mayer's background is in product development ... not corporate strategy, not marketing, not brand definition ... the areas where Yahoo has the most critical need," Forrester analyst Shar VanBoskirk wrote in a blog post.

Yahoo has had at least four different strategies as it discarded one CEO after another since about 2008. No wonder the company is failing. If Mayer is to succeed, says VanBoskirk, she needs to do the following:

  • Define a clear vision for the Yahoo brand
  • Get rid of extraneous Yahoo products that have nothing to do with that vision (say, its Web hosting or domain registration businesses)
  • Market the new vision clearly so that business and consumer customers know what Yahoo is and why to use it

For the sake of Yahoo's employees and investors, I hope she succeeds. If she doesn't, the same pundits who swooned over her will tear her to bits.

I welcome your comments, tips, and suggestions. Post them here (Add a comment) so that all our readers can share them, or reach me at bill@billsnyder.biz. Follow me on Twitter at BSnyderSF.

This article, "One question no one is asking about Yahoo's new CEO," was originally published by InfoWorld.com. Read more of Bill Snyder's Tech's Bottom Line blog and follow the latest technology business developments at InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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