Marissa Mayer to the rescue of Yahoo

Marissa Mayer speaks onstage at the FORTUNE Most Powerful Women Dinner New York City at Hudson Room at the Time Warner Center on May 24, 2011. Mayer is the new CEO at Yahoo.

Kai Ryssdal: Two things about the new CEO of Yahoo today. It's Marissa My-er, not May-er. We called her new employer and asked.

And two, holy cow she's got her hands full. Even with the 13 years of experience at the Internet's biggest search engine that she's got, is it enough to turn Yahoo around?

Lee Iacocca saved Chrysler. Steve Jobs turned Apple into Apple. But that's a pretty small sample size.

Marketplace's Sally Herships has more on how much a CEO can really do.


Sally Herships: Every month, 700 million people go to Yahoo.com. But Marissa Mayer is just one person. So, can a single CEO turn around an entire company?

Ed Soule: It is possible, it has been done, but it -- they are newsworthy, which means they’re rare.

Ed Soule teaches leadership at Georgetown, and he’s talking about famous CEO-superhero stories, where new leaders swooped in to save the day, or Ford, Starbucks and IBM.

Soule: It usually is not within the abilities or capabilities of any one human being to turn around a company.

But when a new CEO steps in, it is an opportunity for a company to think about change -- its structure, its culture, its people. That’s according to Katherine Phillips; she teaches leadership at Columbia Business School.

Katherine Phillips: How are we going to make money? Right? What product are we providing? And to who are we providing that product to?

Phillips says Yahoo is losing advertising dollars to rivals like Google and Facebook. Georgetown’s Ed Suell says making up lost ground in the tech world can be extra tough.

Soule: Turn arounds take time. The metabolism of a high tech company and the industry is such that you don’t have a lot of time.

Mayer is Yahoo’s fifth CEO -- in five years. And what she needs now, Suell says, is patience -- from the company’s board members.

In New York, I’m Sally Herships for Marketplace.

About the author

Sally Herships is a regular contributor to Marketplace.

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