Marissa Mayer – Yahoo! CEO

Marissa Mayer

Yahoo! Names Marissa Mayer CEO

By Caroline Cox
July 16, 2012

Yahoo! named Marissa Mayer president, CEO and board member, to take the reins as of tomorrow. She resigned from Google via telephone.

In a statement, Mayer said: “I am honored and delighted to lead Yahoo!” She takes over during a challenging time for the company, and will be the organization’s fifth CEO.

We caught up with Mayer during her time at Google, for this exclusive interview.

Here, Mayer talks to PINK about finding your rhythm, her love of old movies and the importance of encouraging women in technology.

PINK: What’s your success secret?

Marissa Mayer: My career is still very much a work in progress. But one of the pieces people continually underestimate is hard work. The amount of work it took to make Google successful not only across the company but through working 100 hours a week. There is a huge amount of work required to be successful and to give anything your all, and people often underestimate that.

PINK: What’s the biggest concern for career women today?

MM: Overall, it’s concerning when you look at the number of women on boards and in leadership positions. There are a few of us, but there needs to be more, and there are systematic and cultural changes that need to occur to really achieve that. It’s not about having it be exactly 50/50, but it’s important to have the goal of reaching true diversity and representing the public at large.

PINK: What’s your leadership style?

MM: My team would probably describe it as casual but thorough. A lot of work gets done during casual interactions in the office between meetings, during breaks and off-site. That’s when you run into someone in the hall and end up getting through a bunch of issues and making a bunch of decisions. I think informal times are incredibly important and, as a result, I structure a lot of my meetings informally.

PINK: It sounds like you’re a transparent leader as well.

MM: That’s right. It’s important to be transparent so everyone can understand what you’re thinking and why you’re motivated, because that ultimately helps give the organization stability. There needs to be a platform for people to decide, do we share your philosophies and backgrounds and make the same decisions you do, or do we not? If there is one thing that makes an organization stable, it’s when there is a consistency of thought and decision-making.

PINK: How big is your team?

MM: My team right now is about 1,000 people. We also have help from another 1,000 contractors in India who help us maintain some of our maps and data.

PINK: What’s your biggest weakness as a leader?

MM: Having the right balance between input and output is something I always find challenging. There are often times when I do voice my opinion, but sometimes I don’t, because I want to also be a good listener. It’s about hitting that balance right. It is happens in every meeting – it happened this morning. I thought, “Should I say this or should I wait for someone else to voice their opinion?” I want to run meetings efficiently, but at the same time I want everyone to have a voice.

PINK: As a spokesperson for Google, how do you deal with tough questions or concern about what you’re saying being misconstrued?

MM: You have to be as clear as you can in your answers. The other two things that are important are to think positive and not focus on the competition. When you think about your company, the competition, the industry or the economy, a positive outlook is something people like to hear. And usually there are a lot of positives to focus on. One of the things I’ve learned here at Google is that you shouldn’t speak for other companies.

PINK: What do you look for in a hire?

MM: There are two things I look for. One is that you’re smart, the other is that you get things done. What I’m looking for in a colleague is someone who makes the right decisions and the right choices. If you’re undecided about whether or not you should hire a person, ask yourself if you think this is person is smart and will get things done.

Marissa Mayer

PINK: How do you balance Life/Work?

MM: I don’t really believe in balance. I do have a very distinct theory that I call “finding your rhythm.” Different people have their own ideas of what balance is. To some, it’s three meals a day and eight hours of sleep. But for other people it’s something different. When you say to yourself, why does someone need to be in balance? The reason is because we don’t want them to burn out, and what causes burnout is resentment. It’s when you say, wow, I worked that hard all weekend and I couldn’t even have Tuesday night off. It’s when you give a lot of yourself to something and you can’t get something that really matters to you. You’re not in control and you work all the time. The key to finding your rhythm is to identify what types of things make you resentful and then make sure you protect against that.

PINK: How do you help employees find their rhythm?

MM: There was Katie, who was a soccer mom. Her team was in India, so she kept doing conference calls at 1 a.m. I said, “Katie, I’m getting kind of worried.” She sent me a message and said, “Don’t worry about the morning conference calls from India. That is where my team is and it doesn’t bother me. What does bother me is when I have to miss something with my kids, or when I’m late for something that’s important to them. If I’m 10 minutes late to the soccer game or coming in halfway through the school play, that just kills me. I don’t mind the morning phone calls if I can always be there for my kids.”

PINK: What about your own rhythm?

MM: I love exploring the world. I need to take one week out of the office and go somewhere I haven’t been and learn about it approximately every 4 months.
And I need to be gone so that I miss every Sunday meeting once to remind myself that the world kept spinning. I come back really refreshed and rejuvenated, and I also feel more confident in the operation because they managed to go on that week without me.

PINK: Do you have a positive outlook when it comes to career women today?

MM: I am incredibly optimistic about professional women right now – particularly women in technology. We’re lucky that at Google we have an environment that fosters and promotes women. I think that’s wonderful. All across technology, we’re dealing with companies that are very young. Because they’re young and fast-growing companies, they have a lot of opportunities for women to participate, advance and ultimately make a difference.

It’s my job as a manager to protect that. Now, if we’re working on something and it’s 3:50, I know Katie has to go to the 4:30 soccer game. When someone says, “Katie, can’t you stay for a few more minutes? We’re almost done here,” I let her go because it’s important. Getting that 10 minutes in the middle of the day to make her not late for the soccer game makes all the difference in her work ethic and potential for the whole rest of the week.

PINK: How has your background affected your choices and success?

MM: It’s difficult to pinpoint just one thing. I was encouraged throughout high school as someone who was very good at math and science, and I was encouraged to pursue that. I was encouraged through college as someone who is very good at computer science. My major was actually computer science. I hadn’t experienced much with computers before getting to college but I had a wonderful mother and father who encouraged me and told me to keep doing it. And I’ve obviously been encouraged here at Google to try new things and to work on new products. It wasn’t until I was a professional woman working at Google that I realized there is not a lot of encouragement for women in the computer sciences. I didn’t realize all this encouragement I was getting was atypical.

PINK: What’s your favorite book?

MM: The Design of Everyday Things by Donald Norman. I think a lot about design and products and how things should work. But it makes you notice things that can be infuriating. Like, why does my sandwich shop have meat all the way over there? At the same time, it makes you think about design in new ways, because when you use something everyday it needs to be absolutely efficient and not get in your way. It’s cool to be able to articulate and discuss that on a level that is really accessible and interesting.

PINK: What’s one thing most people don’t know about you?

MM: I particularly love old movies. I love “To Catch a Thief” with Cary Grant and Grace Kelly. One of my friends made a documentary called “Misrepresentation,” about women in the media. She feels that women, particularly the characters in movies, have become much more one-dimensional over time. I spent one summer going to an old movie theater and seeing all these old movies. And it seems that in older movies people were more accepting of a person’s personality. I love that richness of character in old movies.

PINK: What’s a personal goal you have yet to achieve?

MM: I started so many products and companies inside the company of Google that I think that at some point it will be nice to actually start my own company. At the moment I am so interested and challenged by my work at Google that I have no desire to leave. But I do think that at some point it would be great to start my own.

PINK: How do you define success?

MM: Success and happiness are really aligned. I think that if you’ re happy and have an optimistic outlook on life, work and what you’re able to achieve for the world and yourself. I think that is success and so, to me, happiness is success.

PINK: Do you have a favorite quote?

MM: I love quotes. I’ve collected quotes since the beginning of Google. Looking back, it kind of tells the story of our evolution. I love Eleanor Roosevelt’s quote, “Women are like teabags. You don’t know how strong they are until they get into hot water.”

Then there was one that really stuck with me that was on the cover of the Stanford admissions letter the year that I got in. “The world is before you, and you need not take or leave it as it was when you came in.”

The third quote is from a friend of my husband’s. I like to ask people what the best piece of advice they ever got was. He has the best casual but funny answer. He thought for a really long time and said, “Wait five more minutes.” Like, if you’re waiting at the bus stop and the bus doesn’t come, wait five more minutes and it probably will. In your life and your career, if you aren’t happy with things, wait five more minutes and something will probably change.

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