After rocky tenure, Mayer to leave Yahoo 'tarnished'

Yahoo CEO faced uphill battle and stumbles along the way

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Pascal Lauener/Reuters

After nearly five rocky years as CEO of Yahoo, Marissa Mayer will be leaving her post with something of a tarnished image.

As Yahoo continued to struggle under her tenure, so did Mayer's reputation as someone who could run a top-tier company. And that is likely to affect the jobs she'll look at taking on next.

"I think she'll end up on the boards of directors of several companies, but probably will not receive an offer to head up a top company anytime soon," said Dan Olds, an analyst with OrionX. "Her tenure at Yahoo has tarnished her brand, and it will need to be rehabilitated a bit before she gets another shot at the top slot in another tech firm."

News broke early Monday that once Yahoo sells its core Internet assets, Mayer will vacate her CEO position with the remaining holding company. She will leave the company with a $23 million severance package. According to a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Mayer’s severance package is dependent on a successful transition during the sale and as long as she is not terminated with cause.

The SEC filing on Friday reported that after the sale is complete, Thomas J. McInerney, 52, will take over as CEO of the new holding company, to be renamed Altaba. He has been a member of Yahoo's board since April 2012. The company reported in January that Mayer would resign from the company board once the deal closed.

Yahoo announced the deal with Verizon last July. The sale is expected to close in the second quarter. It’s also not clear whether Mayer will have a spot with the part of the company that is being sold to Verizon.

Expectations were high when Mayer, who had been a top-line executive at Google, first took over as Yahoo's CEO in the summer of 2012.

Even as she was stepping into her new role, industry analysts were clear that Mayer had a tough job ahead of her. She was the company's third CEO in less than a year.

Despite the challenge, Mayer, who had often been the public face of Google, inspired confidence that Yahoo could be turned around and once again live up to its beginnings as an Internet pioneer.

For a while, it seemed Mayer was making headway at Yahoo, and there were predictions that she might pull off an "epic turnaround."

But Yahoo didn't rise up to a level where it competed head-to-head with the likes of Facebook and Google.

Jeff Kagan, an independent industry analyst, said Yahoo had been in a tumultuous state before Mayer arrived, and it was in too much trouble to save.

"She was not a success at Yahoo but I'm not sure anyone could have been," he said. "It's impossible to say what would have worked since so many CEOs have tried so many different strategies and nothing worked."

Rob Enderle, an analyst with the Enderle Group, had a different, and less flattering, take on Mayer's tenure.

"She was poorly matched to the job from day one," Enderle said. "It wasn't that she didn't work hard. She just lacked the needed skills to execute a turnaround, and the Yahoo board was no apparent help, either."

Mayer did have some missteps In early 2013 – less than a year after she had taken over at Yahoo – Mayer was criticized for issuing a memo that called the company's telecommuters back into the office.

An even bigger problem was that Mayer was unable to stabilize the company's financials and a stream of acquisitions were made that didn't boost the company as expected.

"Mayer joined Yahoo with a lot of positive press and momentum, which faded over time," Olds said. "During her tenure, she bought 53 companies for more than $2.3 billion, the vast majority of which have had their personnel absorbed into Yahoo while their products have been killed. Thus, it's hard to point to anything positive that has come from her tenure at Yahoo. For example, its $1.1 billion acquisition of Tumblr was eventually written down by more than $700 million, adding little to Yahoo."

Talk of a reorganization or splitting up the company began to swirl later in 2015.

Enderle noted that the company was lucky that Yahoo made the deal with Verizon before news of its major 2014 security breach came to light last fall.

Kagan agreed.

"Fortunately, Verizon wanted Yahoo for its users not for its technology," he said. "She was fortunate to get the Verizon acquisition done in the middle of all the chaos and security problems… I think her performance would have been judged better had there not been so many security problems at the end."

Clarification: This story has been updated since it was originally posted to add conditions for Mayer to receive her severance package and that it's unclear what if any role she will have in the portion of Yahoo that's being acquired by Verizon.

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