Mysterious Marissa Mayer: 5 Things You Might Not Know About the Yahoo CEO
Grow Your Business, Not Your Inbox
The jury's still out on whether or not Marissa Mayer can save Yahoo, but that hasn't stopped the company's CEO from dominating tech headlines and glossy magazine covers since she assumed the position in 2012.
With a pair of computer degrees from Stanford and a resume that includes a lengthy stint at Google, Mayer is at once a Silicon Valley cliché and -- as one of the few powerful women in a male-dominated industry -- a rare exception to the status quo. A math nerd with an appreciation for high-end fashion, she neatly conforms to certain stereotypes while breaking others.
As we look to see where she steers Yahoo next, here are five things you might not know about Yahoo's chief executive.
1. She felt 'utterly unprepared' to work at Google.
When she graduated with a master's degree in computer science from Stanford, Mayer received more than a dozen job offers, including a professorship at Carnegie Mellon University and a consulting gig at McKinsey & Co. Instead of picking a safe, secure option, she took a gamble and accepted an offer at a then-unknown startup, becoming Google's 20th employee and its first female engineer.
Even though Mayer gave Google a hundred times more likely chance of succeeding than the average startup, she still put its chance of success at 2 percent. But she took the job nonetheless because, as she told NPR, it fulfilled two of her professional principles: work with the smartest people you know and seek out opportunities that push you past what you know you can accomplish. "I wanted to work at Google because I felt utterly unprepared to work at a search engine."
This ability to take risks and take positions that are out of her comfort zone have come to define Mayer's career, first at Google and now as chief executive at Yahoo, where she has made a number of bold, sometimes controversial management decisions (including eliminating the company's policy of letting employees work from home to adopting a curve-based ranking system for team members).
2. She thinks sleep is for the weak.
Managing a giant tech company is a lifestyle that leaves little time for sleep. Luckily, Mayer appears to be able to do without much. On multiple occasions, she's flaunted her habit of getting less than four hours a night and famously said that during her first five years at Google, she pulled an all-nighter every week. "I don’t really believe in burnout,” she said in a 2013 speech at New York’s 92nd Street Y.
At Google, she reportedly clocked in 130-hour weeks, a feat managed by taking naps at her desk and scheduling "strategic" showers.
One unfortunate and ill-timed nap aside, she expects her employees to push as hard as she does. According to New York Magazine, Mayer can be dismissive of people who "want eight hours of sleep a night, three meals a day."
3. She doesn’t see the need to 'lean in.'
Unlike Facebook's COO Sheryl Sandberg -- who has been vocal about the difficulties facing women in male-dominated fields like tech -- Mayer has been largely mute about the challenges in balancing motherhood and running a multi-million dollar company.
The two women's tactics for getting ahead at their former employer, Google, follow similarly divergent paths. Sandberg's acute realization that, in many cases, she was one of the few women at the table and had to "lean in" to be heard has spawned an entire movement. Mayer on the other hand? When asked what it felt like to be one of the few female engineers at the company during those early days, Mayer responded that she hadn't really noticed.
4. She can be incredibly shy.
During her time at Google, New York Magazine reports that Mayer would frequently throw lavish parties "at her penthouse atop The Four Seasons hotel in San Francisco, to which everyone yearned to be invited." And yet before each of these high-profile events, Mayer had to overcome her innate shyness, revealing to Vogue that when she arrives at a party -- even a party she's hosting -- for the first 15 minutes she wants to retreat. In order to combat this response, “I will literally look at my watch and say, ‘You can’t leave until time x," she told the magazine. ‘And if you’re still having a terrible time at time x, you can leave.’ ”
5. Even her cupcake recipe is based on analytics.
Mayer's baking style is a fascinating window into how she tackles projects and problems. According to a 2008 feature in San Francisco magazine, Mayer worked her way through "an array of cookbooks," testing each recipe and marking its pros and cons on a spreadsheet. Shortcuts were a non-starter: She had a separate spreadsheet for frosting and had extensively thought through the pluses and minuses of different paper linings. (“The problem with the silver ones is that they seal the cupcake," she told the magazine. "You’ve got to go with the classic paper, which allows the cupcake to breathe.”)
This systematic, research-driven approach to baking apparently is emblematic of her overall decision-making strategy. Even as a high school senior, when she was accepted to 10 colleges, she settled on Stanford by making a spreadsheet that ranked each school by criteria including median S.A.T. scores. As an early employee at Google, Mayer was responsible for designing the search-giant's homepage, testing 41 shades of blue and "infinitesimal variations in the amount of white space between the Google logo and the first answer in a search-results list, finding that users liked less white space better."