Marissa, Who's Your Ma?

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Marisssa Mayer's first anniversary as Yahoo! ( YHOO) CEO coincides with another modest earnings report, so the chattering classes are unanimous in saying she just got lucky.

You know the scene in Remember the Titans where Denzel Washington asks a football player "Who's your daddy?" Well, today Mayer is the football player and Wall Street is asking, "Who's your Ma?"

Ma in this case is Jack Ma, profiled last weekend by our own Robert Weinstein. Ma founded Chinese Web site Alibaba, originally a small business-to-business site, now the largest e-commerce site in the world (sorry, Amazon.com ( AMZN)).

Mayer's predecessors put $1 billion into Alibaba back in 2005, and that investment has paid off huge. Even though Yahoo! sold half the stake last fall, the remaining 23% is still worth more than the whole stake was worth when Mayer took over.

Ma stepped down as CEO, handing the job off to a protege, as the company prepares to go public later this year, but he's still got the government's ear and is still expanding. The company's latest venture is small-business loans -- forces in China's government want him to "shake things up" there according to Bloomberg.

Weinstein sees Alibaba coming to America soon, but there are no indications in a recent Wall Street Journal interview with Ma's successor, Jonathan Lu, that it's imminent.

Instead, the company seems focused on domestic acquisitions after its IPO, as Reuters reports , and could then be in a position to buy Yahoo! itself.

That's why the knives are out for Mayer this morning. Nicholas Carlson at Business Insider says Mayer has almost nothing to do with her company's success -- that it's all down to luck driven by her predecessors' moves.

Technically, he's right.

But only technically.

Yahoo! before Mayer was an elephantine media ship that was going to be sinking soon. That's what got her predecessors the axe.

Mayer has gotten rid of her deadwood, 1,000 jobs, as Carlson well knows, and used part of the Alibaba stake to buy 16 different companies, most focused on mobile apps, as CNN details, in order to get cloud-based engineering talent.

She now has one of the largest such teams in the industry, with offices in both Silicon Valley and New York. She's also got four floors in what was The New York Times building, plus enough cash on hand to buy the New York Times Company ( NYT).

Mayer gave birth to her first child (a boy) last fall, but since then she's really been gestating a new kind of company. It will have a large, entrepreneurial, cloud-focused engineering team with experience turning out mobile apps. It will have a large presence in the center of New York. It may be, once Alibaba has gone public, the perfect partner to bring that company's services to the U.S.

Elephants take two years to gestate. Mayer's a mother, she knows. It takes time to create something new. Without Alibaba she might not have gotten that time. But luck is the residue of design.

If Yahoo! is still going nowhere fast a year from now, I'll be concerned. But I see a method to what others call Mayer's madness, so I want to wait and see how the story plays out.

At the time of publication, the author was long YHOO.

This article is commentary by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.
Dana Blankenhorn has been a business journalist since 1978, and a tech reporter since 1982. His specialty has been getting to the future ahead of the crowd, then leaving before success arrived. That meant covering the Internet in 1985, e-commerce in 1994, the Internet of Things in 2005, open source in 2005 and, since 2010, renewable energy. He has written for every medium from newspapers and magazines to Web sites, from books to blogs. He still seeks tomorrow from his Craftsman home in Atlanta.