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CEO Competencies Needed at Yahoo


After running through six chief executives in five years, struggling web giant Yahoo hired a seventh: Google veteran Marissa Mayer. Although some pundits are betting against Mayer, we think she stands a chance of turning Yahoo around—but only if she was vetted properly.

There's no doubt Mayer's track record is impressive. She was Google's 20th employee, first female engineer, and highest ranking woman. As the company grew from a small start-up into a global colossus, she oversaw the development and launch of many of its key products. Mayer has her name on eleven Google patents and spent years perfecting the world's dominant search engine. More recently, she oversaw location services like Google Earth and Street View.

But resuscitating Yahoo, whose performance and stock price have been in a slump since 2008, will take more than Mayer's resume and two Stanford degrees. Based on our 30 years of working with top executive search firms we know there is more to a successful hire than credentials and experience. Clarifying required competencies and identifying them in a candidate are also critical.

What Mayer brings to the table
We can't claim to know how Yahoo's board evaluated Mayer, but it would be impossible to overlook her many demonstrated competencies. For instance, it's obvious that she is:

Hardworking. Mayer is known for putting in 90-hour weeks, working all night, and rarely taking vacations—and she has said impending motherhood won't change her punishing schedule.
Persuasive. Mayer repeatedly pushed for the iGoogle portal in spite of concerted opposition from other Google executives.
Direct. Mayer is well known for her blunt communication and "hard-charging management style that gets things done."
Detail-oriented. Mayer is known to obsess over details, including the exact shade of colors in new product designs. She tested 40 different shades of blue before choosing one for Google's search links.
Quick study. Over the years, Mayer rapidly mastered a number of new product and service areas at Google.

What Yahoo needs
We don't know what Yahoo was looking for in its latest chief executive other than something different from the previous six CEOs. But a general list of key CEO competencies would almost certainly include leadership, vision, strategic thinking, financial acumen, risk taking, team building, and developing a corporate culture.

Yahoo's current organizational culture will also dictate the competencies most critical for success.

Mayer is now charged with pulling off one of the most notable turnarounds in corporate America. An important first step will be to define a vision for the company. Given her obsession with detail, it would be extremely important to determine whether she has the ability to see the bigger picture and think strategically.

She also needs to get a new team to work together effectively—a task that requires teambuilding, collaboration, and listening skills.

And don't forget that Mayer has moved from a culture with a winning mentality to a culture with a losing one. More than anything else, Mayer will need to be able to inspire the troops.

Some pundits say Mayer's engineering background isn't a good fit for Yahoo, which is primarily a media company. But that assessment is only based on Mayer's resume, not her competencies. The question of corporate fit can't be answered just by looking at prior experience.

We want Mayer and Yahoo to be a winning combination and hope the board interviewed Mayer for the competencies she will need to succeed.