Two companies from the dot-com boom, two different fates. And how are we allowed to assess Marissa Mayer?

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Is any scrutiny of Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer automatically sexist because she is a woman?

You can argue that in the comments. My point regarding Mayer is that here’s another example that a star CEO can’t always fix a disaster and that since the 1980s we have put too much faith — and compensation from corporate treasuries — into supposedly omnipotent chief executives.

Mayer made more than $42 million in 2014 on Equilar’s most recent list of CEO comp, 14th highest among 200. She also retains a highly unusual and favorable stock options deal, which effectively insulates her from Yahoo’s share price drops. But in the end, Yahoo essentially ends up on the block. If anybody wants most of it.

Is she to blame? No. Too many years of missteps preceded her hiring in 2012. Reinvention under Carol Bartz failed. But Mayer made plenty of blunders that she owns, among them accepting so much compensation for so little improvement. And she is accountable, whatever her gender. Nothing could be more sexist than giving her a pass because of it.

No, Amazon, another dot-com era baby, probably doesn’t face a Yahoo moment in its future.

Jeff Bezos and his teary-eyed employees have built a wide river of revenue with many cash-gushing tributaries. If one wants to anoint a star CEO — although I dislike the idea — Bezos fits. He has been a step ahead, able to see around corners, the disruptor rather than the disruptee. And shareholders believe in Amazon — they haven’t believed in Yahoo for a long time.

As a being from a different century, a different millennium, I still have a personal Yahoo mail account. Yes. I also have a Gmail account. But so many people have my Yahoo address, I was always reluctant to change it. What happens next to that little silo of Yahoo’s business is my selfish concern.

But it’s also illuminating, because when Yahoo was flying high in the late 1990s the notion of free email seemed novel yet odd. So did its pioneering sites such as Yahoo Finance. And its portal competing against MSN. The latter was attached to profit-machine Microsoft. Where would Yahoo make its money? The cognoscenti told us not to ask. It was about mysterious Things to Come in the New Economy. We wouldn’t understand.

As it turned out, for all its eyeballs and ventures, Yahoo depended on display advertising, rather like newspapers. And we see how that’s turned out. In this case, Yahoo was run down on the information superhighway by Google.


Today’s Econ Haiku:

Albertsons safe way

Let Haggen and the feds fail

Bag the antitrust