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Marissa Mayer Talks About Last Days at Google and More

May 20, 2015 - Written By Cory McNutt

At Fortune’s Most Powerful Women dinner in New York City, Marissa Mayer spoke with Fortune’s Pattie Sellers about a number of things – like what Sergey Brin said to her on her last day at Google, why a Yahoo-AOL deal never happened and her decision to hire an expensive Katie Couric…among other things.  For those newbies that have never been introduced to Ms. Mayer, here is a little background.  She is the current President and CEO of Yahoo!, a position she has held since July of 2012.  Before her Yahoo! Days, she was with Google since 1999 – Google employee number 20 and she was their first female engineer and worked her way up the Google ladder, holding key roles in many areas before taking the reins at Yahoo! in 2012.

Ms. Mayer has often been criticized about her management style in her three ‘long’ years at Yahoo!, such as in February 2013 she required all work-at-home employees to start working from the office after she herself worked from home during her pregnancy, and upon returning, built a nursery next to her office.  She did increase maternity leave and provide cash bonuses to parents…in line with what Google and Facebook were doing.  She also orchestrated several major acquisitions, such a Tumblr for $1.1 billion in May of 2013.  She also suggested that managers rank their employee’s performance reviews on a bell-curve and fire those at the low-end.

In her interview, Ms. Mayer gave some insight to what Google’s co-founder, Sergey Brin’s last words to her as she walked out the door.  She said “Sergey gave me all kinds of advice and encouragement. He said he would miss me, but also said, ‘Here are my ideas about Yahoo.’ He went into like immediate minutiae.  Change the logo, which we did.  Change all these different things.” Mayer recalls: “I had my hand on the door, saying, ‘Sergey, it’s time for me to go, I’ve got to go.'”  But Brin talked on: “Marissa, wait!”  She turned around, “and he looked at me and he said: ‘Don’t forget to be bold.'”  She said, “I actually hear that in my head every single day that I’m at Yahoo.”

When the merger between AOL and Yahoo! was floating around late last year the analysts, were all trying to determine if this was a good or bad decision.  The merger never occurred and now that Verizon spent $4.4 billion to takeover AOL, her answer, though interesting, is a moot point.  She said, “Some people on the outside saw similarities between the companies.  We didn’t.”  It is important to her that Yahoo! create news, not simply rehash other’s news as she said, “Republishing other content partners is good, but doesn’t give you a voice or differentiate you.”  This brought up another question about hiring expensive talent, like newscaster Katie Couric and if it was really profitable.  Ms. Mayer said that is how she wants Yahoo! to differentiate itself from other companies and based on the ads sold along with Couric’s video content, she answered, “by all means” it was profitable.

Ms. Mayer is always looking for ways to grow their distribution, after all that is what businesses in advertising want to do.  She wouldn’t rule out a future AOL-type purchase, but pointed out that Yahoo! is doing quite good – only Google and Facebook have more than 1 billion users  and more than $5 billion in digital ad revenue.