New Yahoo CEO shows you can have it all

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Remember back in July when Yahoo named Marissa Mayer as its new CEO. Not only is she a woman; she was pregnant. Cue the stories about work-family balance and if someone just starting a family could hold such a high-profile position.

Even other women joined the chorus of questions, like this Miami Herald blog post by Cindy Krischer Goodman when Mayer took the job. Then there was this July post in the New York Times Motherlode blog:

Ms. Mayer’s pregnancy appears to be a first among new chief executives, and possibly (according to TechCrunch) a first among C.E.O.’s of publicly traded Fortune 500 companies. Coverage of her pregnancy is rampant, as, of course, is interest, spurred partly by all those firsts — including the fact that this will be Ms. Mayer’s first baby.

As an honest woman, I have to predict that the balancing of a new baby and such a high-profile job may be more challenging than Ms. Mayer’s blithe dismissal of the question suggests. (“I like to stay in the rhythm of things,” she told Fortune magazine. “My maternity leave will be a few weeks long and I’ll work throughout it.”) But that’s no reason Ms. Mayer can’t make it work — and kudos to her and to Yahoo for taking it on.

But would you have? One question raised as the media and the business world discuss Ms. Mayer’s pregnancy is whether a man would face the same scrutiny for taking a high-profile job during his wife’s first pregnancy. The answer? Of course not, although it would surely come up for discussion — witness even the observers who wondered if a father as involved as Barack Obama would, could or should run for the presidency while his children were young.

Well, yesterday, Mayer delivered on the earnings, only weeks after delivering her first child on September 30. It wasn’t perfect, and the coverage of earnings ranged from critical to glowing. But in a quarter of change, Mayer showed her detractors she is capable of turning the company around.

From the AP story:

Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer turned in an encouraging report card covering her first few months running the troubled Internet company.

The third-quarter results announced Monday weren’t astounding, but they were better than analysts anticipated. Most importantly, Yahoo’s net revenue crept up from the previous year for the third consecutive year. That reinforced the belief that things are finally getting better at Yahoo after five years of financial malaise, especially with the hard-driving, well-respected Mayer at the helm.

And from the New York Times coverage:

Given the scope and complexity of Yahoo’s problems, Marissa Mayer’s first quarter as chief executive was not a bad start. But it was only a start.

Yahoo reported stronger earnings than a year earlier, but future growth remained uncertain. “We have a fundamental foundation on which to grow,” Ms. Mayer said in a conference call with analysts. “We believe Yahoo’s best days lie ahead. We intend to win.”

……

Those problems start with the company’s stagnant revenue, which was $1.2 billion in the quarter. Its income from operations decreased 14 percent, to $152 million from $177 million in the year earlier period.

With 700 million users each month, Yahoo remains one of the most visited sites on the Web, but it has been ceding its share of the online display ad market to rivals like Facebook and Google.

Its search business, which Yahoo outsourced to Microsoft in 2009, is on its last legs, propped up only because of a revenue-guarantee clause in its contract with Microsoft.

And the Wall Street Journal weighs in with a measured assessment as well:

Marissa Mayer has injected a feeling of hope inside Yahoo Inc., but her first quarterly report card points to a tough slog for the long-ailing Internet pioneer.

The Silicon Valley company on Monday reported third-quarter profit that soared due to Yahoo’s sale of part of its stake in Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. But revenue fell 1%, lagging steady growth in the online advertising market.

Yahoo’s results were above analysts’ expectations, however, sending its share price up 4.3% to $16.45 in after-hours trading following the announcement.

Given all the speculation about Mayer’s ability to balance having a baby and trying to turn around a struggling company, I think her first quarter should help stop some of the criticism. It’s not perfect. But it takes more than three months to fix an ailing company and Mayer seems to be well on the way to accomplishing her plans.

One thing she could do better, according to nearly all the media stories, is explain what those plans are and how she’s going to execute them.  While it seems she’s come a long way in three months, there’s definitely room for improvement. I just hope the next quarter’s stories focus more on the company and less on the new mother’s ability to lead it.