NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- I once called Yahoo! (YHOO) the best "has-been" on the market. Not only had the company lost its search battle to Google (GOOG) - Get Report and now Microsoft (MSFT) - Get Report, but it had developed a CEO turnstile; it seemed every year investors were being introduced to a new leader and being reminded of broken promises from the one that just left.
The Lottery Pick
The company had become not only a laughing stock, but it seemed overnight the once-proud search pioneer that made the Internet a "cool destination" had become a relic. It was sad.
Making matters worse was the scandal surrounding recently ousted CEO Scott Thompson over concerns surrounding an alleged bio that included a college degree that he never received.
Instead of sticking by Thompson, the company opted to get rid of him and go in a different direction. At the time, I thought it showed a lack of character on Yahoo!'s part for not having supported its decision to hire Thompson in the first place.
However, seeing its choice being Marissa Mayer for his replacement, I have to say that this is one of the best decisions it has ever made. I compare this pick to a failing professional sports franchise such as the Cleveland Cavaliers when they selected LeBron James after having earned the first pick in lottery or the Carolina Panthers in picking Cam Newton last year.
Essentially, Mayer can be to Yahoo! what Peyton Manning once was to the Indianapolis Colts -- a franchise savior. It won't be easy, as criticism is certain to accompany her first two full quarters under at the helm.
Fairly or unfairly, she will not get her due respect if the critics don't criticize. After all, that is what she has signed up for.
Good Move for Yahoo! but Very Risky
The company deserves a considerable amount of credit with this selection. Not only because it is a brilliant decision, but because (unfortunately) a major company hiring a woman to fill a CEO post still qualifies as news -- no less, she's also an expecting mother and one can safely assume some sort of maternity leave will be in order.
So for as much criticism as the company's board has received over the years for some questionable and sometimes egregious decisions -- including declining a bid to be acquired by Microsoft -- I think the board has just bought itself some points with analysts.
But can Mayer's performance help it sustain the trend? Because absent some solid returns pretty soon, those points are going to run out.
While no one is questioning Mayer's intelligence, her lack of experience as a CEO continues to be a hot topic. While this is indeed a risk on Yahoo!'s part -- particularly for a company that is in desperate need of turning itself around -- I think it is certainly a risk worth taking.
It goes without saying that the search race with Google has long been decided and is over. So it makes sense to steal one of Google's brilliant minds to restore the company back to prominence.
What's more, it seems that Yahoo! now understands the urgency that exists after having allowed opportunities such as
to escape its grasp. All were businesses that the company could have easily dominated had it had someone of Mayer's caliber and intuitiveness to navigate its course.
But this is not to be considered a reactionary decision. The company still has an extremely steep hill to climb.
The first thing it needs to do is decide what it wants to be. Will it be strictly a media company that focuses on content delivery or will it be a technology company with an innovative strategy? It must choose because it can't expect to do both very well.
Why would the company have selected Mayer, a person with an engineering background, if it only wanted to further an already-decided course -- essentially to focus on media as evident by its
It seems to me by selecting Mayer, Yahoo! has made the statement that it wants to grow and I think her engineering brilliance will do just that -- build growth.
Who is Marissa Meyer?
Before we can make some safe assumptions about what her strategies are likely to be, we must first seek to understand who she is. She is described as a brilliant "tech geek" who is intense and a tireless executive with an obsession not only for design but also for improving the user experience.
It was these qualities that helped her land a lead engineering position at Google as its 20th employee.
Among her first projects was designing the company's clean search box layout that has now become an icon. What followed were other successful projects such as Gmail, the popular Google Maps as well as Google News.
So, clearly in addition to her earning her undergraduate and graduate degrees at Stanford where she specialized in artificial intelligence, Mayer comes to Yahoo! with an extremely strong professional pedigree. With that in mind, she will certainly be looking to make some hires while looking for engineering talent -- particularly in the area of user interfaces and experience.
I think we can also expect Yahoo! to start competing more effectively with Google. And on that note, Mayer will bring to Yahoo! a new mission and strategy for what it means to be not only a "media company" but more appropriately, one that pioneered the internet. In other words, Yahoo! will once again emerge as a leader.
While Mayer's arrival does not necessarily signal an immediate Yahoo! recovery, it does serve to keep the grim reaper away for a least a few more years. What is clear to me is that the company has not given up and understands that it cannot just sit idly and expect to grow while doing the same things it has always done.
The company has thrown Wall Street a curve ball. But with the element of surprise now gone, it can only do one thing to maintain the impact of its decision -- produce and produce consistently.
At the time of publication, the author held no position in any of the stocks mentioned