Adweek 2013: Marissa Mayer Reflects on First Year at Yahoo With Charlie Rose

Marissa Mayer says she never dreamed of becoming a chief executive, but of course that all changed when the opportunity came knocking at Yahoo last summer.

“I was ready to do something new and learn again… and that’s what’s been really fun at Yahoo,” she tells interviewer extraordinaire Charlie Rose at the conclusion of IAB MIXX.

Her decision to join Yahoo after 13 years at Google seemed to come easy. “It was everything I’ve worked on every day of my career,” she says. “It was just exciting to see a platform with so much potential.”

While Mayer tends to focus her attentions on the present or future, she says it was simply a “string of bad luck” that beset Yahoo for so many years before her arrival. From day one, Mayer has focused on products and the people at Yahoo.

“One of the things I’ve always believed is technology and companies live and die by the people,” she says. “Great people build great things, they build great products… It’s a chain reaction. It has to go in that order. You can’t do the revenue or the traffic without getting the right people.”

The company, which receives about 12,000 resumes every week now, is focused on adapting its content, services and advertising products to better suit the mobile experience, Mayer tells Rose on stage. “We’re reimagining what they should be like on the phone,” she says of Yahoo’s many products.

“To me the future is personalization… The phone is this amazing opportunity to personalize,” she says. “Everything’s going to be much more influenced by social media. Everything’s going to be much more influenced by search.”

Yahoo gained some influence of its own last May when it announced plans to acquire Tumblr. The 10-figure deal changed the perception of Yahoo overnight, Rose tells Mayer.

“I think what we really said is we came to play, but that’s really not why you do a billion-dollar acquisition. The reason we did the acquisition was just because they have such an amazing platform,” Mayer says.

It all started to click, she says, when Mayer and Tumblr’s chief executive and founder, David Karp, talked about their plans and goals for their respective companies. “We both love creativity,” she says, as they wondered things like: “Shouldn’t the ads be better than the creative? Shouldn’t the ads just be something that you want to watch?”

After, Rose questioned Mayer on Google chairman Eric Schmidt’s view, referring to the four-way race in tech between Google, Facebook, Amazon and Apple. Mayer said she’s happy to stay out of that competition. Those companies often have trouble partnering with each other, whereas Yahoo is more focused on partnerships, she says. “It’s much more fun to say iOS is an amazing platform, so is Android, we can build for both of them.”

In a hall packed to the gills, Rose ended his interview with Mayer by asking what she has learned about herself and other chief executives who call Silicon Valley home. “The most important thing I’ve learned about being a chief executive is the importance of listening,” she says, emphasizing that what differentiates Silicon Valley executives from others is a relentless focus on customers and the long term.

“You want to have a sense of momentum. Momentum matters a lot overall in business… But at the same time, you want to be investing for the long term,” Mayer adds. “Our goal is to build a long-term growth company.”

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