The Year of Marissa Mayer
Marissa Mayer loves to shop. During her one- year reign at the helm of Yahoo, the Company has purchased a staggering 16 startups. Mayer didn’t even begin her shopping spree until she had already been CEO for three months. You do the math.
Since her third month, Yahoo’s acquisitions have been at a hurried pace. The Company sometimes announced two purchases in a single day, or six in one month.
S&P Capital equity analyst Scott Kessler says, "It is just astounding how truly active Yahoo has been on the M&A front," he goes on to say, "They're mostly buying very small companies, but still - I don't know that any other company has matched this pace of buying."
Mayer gained inspiration from her former employer, Google. The company would often purchase small companies in order to take advantage of the talent pool. Mayer’s continued that strategy with Yahoo in order to turn the struggling tech giant around.
CNN Money says, “…the trail of purchases offers a glimpse at how she views the company's future.”
Mayer is remaining extremely focused on mobile as smartphones and tablet computers continue to sell at a rapid pace. Nearly all of the startups that Mayer purchased were focused on mobile content, apps and services.
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"[Mayer] is pulling in people who are excited about mobile, people who want to build a winning culture," said JMP Securities analyst Ron Josey. "Yahoo needs that badly. That cannot be understated, given that [Mayer's] main strategy is to make Yahoo a company that builds products people are excited to use every day."
Yahoo remains interested in these companies because of their engineering talent. Yahoo shut down all but three of the 16 companies it bought this past year, and many of the teams joined the Company’s mobile staff. (Only blogging platform Tumblr, gaming infrastructure creator PlayerScale and video app Qwiki have survived.)
Moving forward Yahoo is focusing on four sections: core business (content, apps and search), social, gaming, and video (chat and conference calling).
"If you think about the direction of the Web, these are all huge areas," says Kessler"This isn't about just acquiring staffers - this is about using these companies' technology to enhance and improve what Yahoo already has."
Mayer’s main strategy is to make Yahoo cool again with a major revamp. She has overhauled the corporate culture, and during the company's first-quarter earnings call, Mayer proudly announced that 14% of all hires during the quarter were "boomerangs," or people who had worked at the company previously.
Mayer brought back Yahoo mobile apps, revived Flickr and released a cleaner results page.
"All of these, including the [startup acquisitions], are pieces of Mayer's overall plan to get employees, users and shareholders excited about Yahoo," Josey said. "It's a big challenge, and you need multiple approaches to really turn a company around."
Marketing matters: from IBM to Kyndryl
Prior to joining Kyndryl as Chief Marketing Officer, Maria had a 25-year career at IBM, most recently as the tech giant’s CMO where she oversaw all marketing professionals and activities across North America, Canada and Latin America. She has held senior global marketing positions in a variety of disciplines and business units across IBM, most notably strategic initiatives in Smarter Cities and Watson Customer Engagement, as well as leading teams in services, business analytics, and mobile and industry solutions. She is known for her work with teams to leverage data, analytics and cloud technologies to build deeper engagements with customers and partners.
With a passion for marketing, business and people, and a recognized expert in data-driven marketing and brand engagement, Maria talks to Business Chief about her new role, her leadership style and what success means to her.
You've recently moved from IBM to Kyndryl, joining as CMO. Tell us about this exciting new role?
I’m Chief Marketing Officer for Kyndryl, the independent company that will be created following the separation from IBM of its Managed Infrastructure Services business, expected to occur by the end of 2021. My role is to plan, develop, and execute Kyndryl's marketing and advertising initiatives. This includes building a company culture and brand identity on which we base our marketing and advertising strategy.
We have an amazing opportunity ahead at Kyndryl to create a company brand that will stand apart in the market by leading with our people first. Once we are an independent company, each Kyndryl employee will advance the vital systems that power human progress. Our people are devoted, restless, empathetic, and anticipatory – key qualities needed as we build on existing customer relationships and cultivate new ones. Our people are at the heart of this business and I am deeply hopeful and excited for our future.
What experiences have helped prepare you for this new opportunity?
I’ve had a very rich and diverse career history at IBM that has lasted 25+ years. I started out in sales but landed explored opportunities at IBM in different roles, business units, geographies, and functions. Marketing and business are my passions and I landed on Marketing because it allowed me to utilize both my left and right brain, bringing together art and science. In college, I was no tonly a business major, but an art major. I love marketing because I can leverage my extensive knowledge of business, while also being able to think openly and creatively.
The opportunities I was given during my time at IBM and my natural curiosity have led me to the path I’m on now and there’s no better next career step than a once-in-a-lifetime-opportunity to help launch a company. The core of my role at Kyndryl is to create a culture centered on our people and growing up in my career at IBM has allowed me to see first-hand how to prioritize people and ensure they are at the heart of progress in everything Kyndryl will do.
How would you describe your leadership style?
I believe that people aren't your greatest assets, they are your only assets. My platform and background for leadership has always been grounded in authenticity to who I am and centered on diversity and inclusion. I immigrated to the US from Chile when I was 10 years old and so I know the power and beauty that comes from leaning into what makes you different from other people, and that's what I want every person in my marketing organization to feel – the value in bringing their most authentic self to work every day. The way our employees feel when they show up for themselves authentically is how they will also show up for our customers, and strong relationships drive growth.
I think this is especially true in light of a world forever changed by the pandemic. Living through such an unprecedented time has reinforced that we are all humans. We can't lead or care for one another without empathy and I think leaders everywhere have been reminded of this.
What’s the best leadership advice you’ve received?
When I was growing up as an immigrant in North Carolina, I often wanted to be just like everyone else. But my mother always told me: Be unique, be memorable – you have an authentic view and experience of the world that no one else will ever have, so don't try to be anyone else but you.
What does success look like to you?
I think the concept of success is multi-faceted. From a career perspective, being in a job where you're respected and appreciated, and where you can see how your contributions are providing value by motivating your teams to be better – that's success! From a personal perspective, there is no greater accomplishment than investing in the next generation. I love mentoring younger professionals – they are the future. I want my legacy as a leader to include providing value in work culture, but also in leaving a personal impact on the lives of professionals who will carry the workforce forward. Finding a position in life with a job and company that offers me a chance at all of that is what success looks like to me.
What advice would you give to your younger self just starting out in the industry?
I've always been a naturally curious person and it's easy for me to over-commit to projects that pique my interest. I've learned over years of practice how to manage that, so to my younger self I’d say… prioritize the things that are most important, and then become amazing at those things.