Former Google executive Marissa Mayer started her new gig as Chief Executive Officer at Yahoo yesterday, a highly publicized move that Yahoo hopes will reverse its ailing fortunes. Yahoo has long been struggling with internal turmoil as it attempted – and failed – to compete with its rival: Google. Hiring Ms. Mayer, the 20th employee at Google and involved in everything from Gmail to Google Maps, seems like a smart move but it might not make much difference to the future of the company, according to research analysts studying the firm.
“In the short term, just how much cash Yahoo gets from the sale of its Asian assets — including its share of Yahoo! Japan and Alibaba — is of greater importance than any long-term strategic vision”, says Laura Martin of Needham and Co.
Recent articles about Ms. Mayer seem to be focused on the fact that she’s now the most prominent woman in Silicon Valley, is strikingly attractive, has an incredible apartment and makes a killer cupcake. Another article in Forbes calls Ms. Mayer “the hottest CEO ever”. So you can understand why some pundits are equating this move by Yahoo to “slapping lipstick on a pig”. How much of this is a move to appease investors or prep for a buy out?
In a similar move earlier this year, faced with declining market share to competitors Apple & Google, Research In Motion, makers of the once market-leading Blackberry smart phone replaced ousted CEO Jim Balsillie with Thorsten Heins, the former CTO of Siemens’ Communications Division. Mr. Heins’ quickly released a statement reporting that he will “mostly follow the path set by his predecessor”, a comment widely seen as an attempt to appease shareholders who had invested in the then impending Playbook tablet and new operating system.
At the time I wrote that I was disheartened by the CEOs lack of vision and failure to recognize that the customer experience with their products was the real cause of their sales slump, not their delays in releasing a new tablet. Their problems were deep rooted with the brand’s poor customer experience; manufactured buzz around a new tablet and operating system were masking this reality. Fast forward and my fears were justified. Corporate vultures are now circling and the break of the company including its patents, hardware and software businesses seems imminent.
Customers Are Talking, Is Anyone Listening?
CEOs are responsible to their shareholders for driving solid returns; a huge challenge today given the renewed importance of customer experience design in achieving market growth. The reality is that CX design is about being accountable to the customer and their needs, which is often the polar opposite (at least in the short term) to the immediate needs of the shareholders.
Immediately after Ms. Mayer’s appointment was announced, customers took to the social airwaves with pleas to make their favorite products better such as: “Dear Marissa Mayer, please make Flickr awesome again”. In what seemed like a nanosecond, the www.DearMarissaMayer.com site went live attracting current and former Yahoo fans desperate for a little TLC. There’s pent up demand for an improved customer experience, so why aren’t more CEOs standing up and taking notice?
Of course it’s too early to judge Ms. Mayer’s performance. After all, she did just start and we have to consider that she was one of the masterminds behind Google’s famous white search home page and design including how users interacted with Google News, Google Images and Gmail – three of its most successful user products. So on paper, it seems Yahoo understand the need.
Yet she wasn’t Google’s CEO during these innovations and corporate history is not on her side. Within Yahoo itself she’s the fifth chief executive of Yahoo in the last year (including two interim CEOs). Yesterday, Shelly Kramer asked on her blog if the appointment might be a case of the “Glass Cliff”; that she’s expected to fail?
As long as she reports to the board of directors and shareholders who believe the analysts, the focus will not be directed towards the customer experience. As Ken Sena, analyst for Evercore Parnters notes, “Yahoo! needs to slash expenses, including partly by slashing its workforce, as it figures out how to boost its user base, and whether or not to outsource ad sales”. Where in that litany of directives is a renewed focus on the customer experience?
Show Some Mercy, Shoot The Horse
Maybe Boards of Directors should have mercy and ask: “Is it time to shoot this horse” before they replace the jockey? When a business has lost the faith of its customers, I’d argue that a new CEO is no longer the answer.
What do you think? Are CEOs overrated in our socially-charged world where customer experience-lead bandwagonism has changed all the rules? Should the “chiefs” focus be moved elsewhere? What say you? Join the debate.
Sam Fiorella – Sensei
Feed Your Community, Not Your Ego