At long last, Marissa Mayer’s rocky reign at Yahoo appears to be coming to an end. The news comes not with a bang—or an exclamation mark—but with something closer to a resigned sigh.
This morning, Verizon confirmed it had reached a deal to purchase the former internet giant’s core business for $4.8 billion. While Mayer’s future at the company still has yet to shake out publicly, it’s not unreasonable to believe she’ll lose some, if not all, of her current grip on power. Though she told employees she was “planning to stay” (without specifying in what role), Verizon executive Marni Walden said this morning that leadership is still in flux. Moreover, according to Recode’s Kara Swisher, while Mayer may stay on for the transition, she’s not likely to stick around after the deal officially goes through.
Whatever her future role, the Verizon sale is a blunt admission that Mayer’s grand resuscitation plan for Yahoo failed. She tried valiantly to inject some life into the company—with acquisitions, layoffs, splashy hires, and a way-too-late emphasis on mobile, among other strategies—but ultimately, it wasn’t enough. Now, Mayer and her attempts to save the big purple albatross are history, and she’s left with the shell of a once-mighty company that will join former competitor AOL as a dusty Web 1.0 trophy on Verizon’s shelf.
But while her ending hasn’t had quite as much drama as it did for her predecessors—Carol Bartz famously howled that Yahoo “fucked [her] over,” and Scott Thompson was fired for pretending he had a computer science degree—Mayer’s time at the sinking violet ship was similarly, if not more, tumultuous.
She joined the company almost exactly four years ago, following a long stint as Google’s well-heeled wiz-kid. Her arrival at Yahoo was met with metaphorical trumpets and flocks of doves: employees slapped her face on Obama-style “Hope” posters and even rolled out the purple carpet for her.
Expectations were high. Reports from the time suggested she was brought on to make Yahoo great again—to save it from turning into the kind of fusty, dated deadweight popular with grandparents and Ted Stevens. She wasn’t there to make sure it simply survived. She was there to return it to its former glory, and to reinvent it as the kind of company that could compete with newer companies like Google and Facebook. She didn’t have a wealth of management experience, but, well, whatever! She was a product person, and product people are supposed to provide the ideas and the vision.
Whatever you might say about Mayer, it’s tough to argue she didn’t at least try to live up to these crazy expectations. She bought (and shut down) a bunch of middling startups and drained them of tech and talent to jumpstart Yahoo’s non-existent mobile division; she spent over a billion dollars on Tumblr in order to attract younger talent (although that didn’t quite work out); she expanded parental leave; she hired David Pogue and Tumblr expert Katie Couric; she attempted to spin off the company’s stake in Alibaba.
Of course, none of that matters now. The company still struggled to prove it was anything other than a dinosaur. Yahoo investors still revolted. The Tumblr acquisition continually proved to be a shitty move. Calls discussing earnings reports were still sad, downcast affairs. And while Mayer herself wasn’t solely responsible, at the end of the day, her name was in the CEO slot.
Unsurprisingly, Yahoo itself sees the deal as a great move. A company spokesperson told Gizmodo that separating the company’s operating business from its Alibaba and Yahoo Japan assets—which are worth around $40 billion—was the best route, and argued that regardless of Yahoo’s core business performance, a separation still made the most sense. When asked about Mayer’s future, the spokesperson pointed us to Mayer’s own statements, and said only that discussions are ongoing as far as post-deal moves.
Now, with the deal in place, it appears that the Zamboni ride has finally come to an end. Don’t feel too sad for Mayer, however—if she gets the axe, she has a $55 million (£37 million) golden parachute to help her all the way down.