Verizon

Meet the Rising Star Behind Verizon's Effort to Buy Yahoo

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While AOL chief Tim Armstrong has been a key part of Verizon's Yahoo pursuit, the driving force on the Verizon side is his boss, longtime Verizon executive Marni Walden.

The career cell phone executive has been leading the company's moves beyond telecommunications, particularly its expansion into video and advertising, and was instrumental in the acquisition of AOL.

All the players in telecom talk about wanting to be more than just a "dumb pipe," and Walden has been leading the charge at Verizon.

"Making sure that you play in accessing the revenue opportunities above the connectivity is something we think a lot about," she told Recode an interview late last year. "We can go do other things because of our strength in mobile."

Walden, 49, has spent her life in the wireless industry, since the days when cell phones were things that came in a briefcase. Her move to join the nascent mobile business was a far cry from her childhood growing up on a Wyoming cattle ranch.

"When I was growing up, I wanted to be either a cowboy or a ballet dancer," Walden told Bloomberg earlier this year. "But neither seemed like reasonable options.''

Walden did show both an early knack for the cell phone business as well as significant staying power in rising to become one of the most powerful women in the industry.

She served as both operating chief and marketing chief for Verizon Wireless after getting her start at the company as a regional executive for both it and predecessor AirTouch Cellular. She also worked earlier in her career at AT&T Wireless and McCaw Cellular, among other cell phone companies.

These days, though, Walden is in charge of new business opportunities for Verizon. Some of those are things involve the cellular business, such as connected cars, but much of Walden's work has been in areas new to both her and Verizon.

"People are surprised about Verizon getting into the content space," Walden told Recode last year. "I think that's really important to bring eyeballs and audience. Our media business will play a much more significant role in the Verizon of the future."

It hasn't all been easy going for Verizon, particularly its efforts in video programming. The company launched a mobile video service known as Go90 last year, but it remains a relative nonentity.

Rather than boasting well-known shows, big sports deals or original programming, Go90 has relied on short clips it hopes will appeal to the YouTube generation. In that vein, Verizon recently hired former YouTube executive Ivana Kirkbride to be Go90's chief content officer.

Probably the biggest thing going for Go90 is that it can undercut rivals on price. Not only is there no price for subscribing, but for Verizon Wireless customers, using the service doesn't even count against their data cap.

While watching a few movies on Netflix or binge-watching TV shows on Hulu can quickly eat through a customer's plan, Verizon users are free to watch as much Go90 as they like. Verizon hasn't said just how many people are actually taking the company up on the offer, but net neutrality advocates hate the way Verizon is prioritizing its own service.

Walden made it clear in last year's interview that Verizon might need to make more acquisitions -- possibly including Yahoo -- to reach its ambitions in the media and content realm.

"We didn't get into the media company business just to be a single-digit market share player," Walden said. "We have much bigger aspirations of how we want to grow that business. Some can happen because of the scale Verizon brings, but we will continue to look at how we can scale and be a meaningful player from a double-digit market share, and by market share, I think about revenue. We definitely will look to build this business."

-- By Ina Fried, Recode.net.


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