As Yahoo! Inc. (YHOO) hands the keys to its Internet business to Tim Armstrong and Verizon Communications Inc.'s (VZ) Oath, Marissa Mayer is officially off the hot seat. Shareholders officially approved the sale on Thursday, and the company expects the transaction to close on June 13.
Greeted as a savior when Yahoo! named her CEO in July 2012, Mayer has been under pressure from investors like Starboard Value LP for much of her tenure. Mayer, who was famously the first female engineer at Alphabet Inc.'s (GOOGL) Google, has been mum about her plans, after saying in a blog post when the deal was first announced in July 2016 that she aimed to stay at Yahoo! An April regulatory filing listed Mayer's $23 million golden parachute (and $186 million in options and restricted stock units), indicating her exit.
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The venture capital and private equity communities could be an appealing landing spot for someone with Mayer's skills and experience.
"She has lots of options on what she'll do next but venture capital is a common path for leadership of a public company gone sour," Orly Lobel a professor at the University of San Diego School of Law.
The old America Online provides a useful comparison to Yahoo!, Michael McDermott, professor at Georgetown's McDonough School of Business, and not just because Verizon is the buyer in both cases.
"Both of them were basically Internet portals that kind of were wildly successful when that was a business model that served the Internet habits of their customers" McDermott said. "As things moved more towards broadband and apps and people got more savvy about the Internet, that really became an archaic model."
AOL's merger with Time Warner Inc. (TWX) was a historic bust. Time Warner spent years recovering from the deal before arranging its sale to AT&T T (T).
Steve Case, who co-founded AOL and stepped down as CEO after the sale to Time Warner, went on to create Washington, D.C., venture capital firm Revolution LLC in 2005. Revolution has backed companies such as daily deal promotion company LivingSocial Inc., which Groupon Inc. (GRPN) acquired last year, and ZipCar Inc., which Avis Budget Group Inc. (CAR) bought for $500 million in 2013. He also served on President Obama's Council on Jobs and Competitiveness.
Bob Pittman was COO at AOL and then at AOL Time Warner. A co-founder of MTV, Pittman was a highly regarded figure in media. After leaving AOL he founded New York private equity firm Pilot Group LLC. Among other investments, Pilot Group put money behind Daily Candy, which Comcast Corp. (CMCSA) bought for $125 million in 2008, and also backed game maker Zynga Inc. (ZNGA). Pittman later became Chief Executive Officer of iHeartMedia Inc. (IHRT) in 2011 and Chairman in 2013, positions that he still currently holds.
Editors' pick: Originally published June 8.
Yahoo's $1.1 billion purchase of blogging site Tumblr and many other smaller deals drew criticism for not paying off, but Mayer's acquisitions could give her an interesting perspective on venture capital, as she frequently sat across the table from VC-backed companies.
Tumblr, for instance, had funding from Greylock Partners, Insight Venture Partners, Chernin Group, Spark Capital, Union Square Ventures, Sequoia Capital and Sir Richard Branson. Tumblr founder David Karp has made VC deals.
In 2014, Yahoo bought ad tech company BrightRoll, which had investments from Felicis Ventures, SoftTech VC and True Ventures; and mobile analytics outfit Flurry, which raised money from Borealis Ventures , Crosslink Capital, Draper Fisher Jurvetson , Draper Richards, Menlo Ventures, Union Square Ventures and others.
While Mayer's turnaround of Yahoo! never really took hold, it wasn't exactly an easy job.
"Mayer also did some good things for Yahoo! And she is still considered super sharp and a good institutional leader," said Lobel. "I think a lot was stacked against her to begin with."
Yahoo's legacy Internet business had long been in decline, and Mayer did make an early investment in Snap Inc. (SNAP) -- although that stake is less valuable now than it was just a few months ago.
"She has been the focal point of Yahoo's failure," Georgetown's McDermott said. "People forget that in the five or six years before she took over there were five other CEOs of Yahoo who failed to turn it around."
He suggested that Mayer is ultimately better suited for the "more nimble and innovative environment of a startup" than at another large company like Google or Yahoo, which would fit the profile of the types of companies in which VCs invest.
And Mayer is arguably more qualified now after running Yahoo! for five years. "All of us as leaders, as people learn more from our failures than our successes," McDermott said. "She's probably a more valuable a leader than she was the day Yahoo! hired her."