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Yahoo! taps Google exec Marissa Mayer as new chief

Google executive Marissa Mayer speaks in San Francisco, about the launch of Google Instant, a faster version of Google search that streams results live as you type your query.

After cycling through three CEOs in three years, the Sunnyvale, Calif., Internet company Yahoo! today announced that it has appointed former Google vice president Marissa Mayer as president and chief executive officer.


Kai Ryssdal: Until about 1:15 this afternoon Silicon Valley time, Marissa Mayer was a widely respected, highly influential and firmly ensconced vice president at Google.

At 1:16, she was the new CEO of Yahoo. It is, with not really very much exaggeration at all, a huge move for Mayer and for Yahoo.

Andrew Ross Sorkin is editor at large at the New York Times' Dealbook blog, and an anchor on CNBC's Squawk Box. Good to have you here.

Andrew Ross Sorkin: Hey, thanks for having me. Appreciate it.

Ryssdal: So remind us who Marissa Mayer is, would ya?

Sorkin: Well Marissa Mayer is one of the most senior people at Google. She has been in charge of the look and feel of everything you know about Google -- that famous Google homepage that you put your search terms into. She was one of the people that was very involved in the look and feel and what we think about Gmail today, and Google News and Google Images and Google Maps. And so everything that we touch in many ways on Google, she has been a huge part of.

Ryssdal: And Yahoo looked around and said, 'We want you.' What are they hoping, do you think, that she will bring to them that they haven't been able to find in anybody else? And really haven't, right?

Sorkin: Well you know, Yahoo's really struggled, and they struggled on multiple fronts. Really more than anything, it's been about finding a leader with a vision and a reputation to bring people along, to be able to hire really great talent in this fierce, horrible bidding war that goes on in Silicon Valley between Google and Facebook and Yahoo. Yahoo's really been the loser in all of this. And this idea that you could bring somebody in like Marissa to really try to attract new talent, to really focus on what they describe as the "end user experience," the way we interact with Yahoo.

I was speaking with David Filo today, who's the co-founder of Yahoo with Jerry Yang, and he was saying one of the things that Yahoo's lacked over all these years, with all the turnover at the top, has been a focus on the way the thing looks and feels and the way you interact with it. And that's one of the reasons so many people, in his mind, have left Yahoo. And so, I think she has the opportunity potentially to bring that back to the fore, to try to bring new talent with her.

Ryssdal: Is this a little bit -- just getting back to that bidding war you mentioned -- is this a little bit of addition by subtraction? Not only is Yahoo getting Marissa Mayer -- a huge get -- but they're also stealing her from Google.

Sorkin: Oh absolutely. I think you know, in the pantheon of great -- in this great discussion of Google versus Microsoft versus Yahoo versus Facebook, this is one for the ages. This was a surprise. You know, for the past month, we've heard many names bandied about, about who could take over this company -- and she was never somebody you would mention, in part because you never thought she was really going to leave Google. And so, yes, this is in many ways a big get.

Now one note of caution, I should say: She's never run a company. So she's never been a CEO before. She manages a lot of people -- she manages, by the way, over 1,000 people at Google. But that's very different than being a CEO of a company. I should also note: She just joined the board recently of Walmart, so she's trying to gain some corporate experience there. And as part of this, not only will she be the CEO, she'll be the president and she's also going to join the board of Yahoo.

Ryssdal: Yeah, this is unbelievably cynical, but two questions, and I'm going to roll into one because we're almost out of time. Number one: How long can her honeymoon last? And number two: It seems like kind of a risk for Yahoo.

Sorkin: Well, you know, honeymoons I think like this could last anywhere from six months to a year, which probably, frankly is not enough time in terms of really being able to turn things around in a measurable way. Perhaps investors will give her a little bit longer than that. As to your second question --

Ryssdal: It sounds like I've got you flummoxed a little bit.

Sorkin: You do have me flummoxed. I'm not sure what the right answer is. I do think it's a risk for Yahoo, but in many respects, it's also a risk for her.

Ryssdal: Good point. Andrew Ross Sorkin, he edits Dealbook at the New York Times. Broke the story about Marissa Mayer going to Yahoo today. Thanks a lot.

Sorkin: Thank you.

About the author

Kai Ryssdal is the host and senior editor of Marketplace, public radio’s program on business and the economy.

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