14 Business Lessons to Learn from Marissa Mayer’s Biography

14 Business Lessons to Learn from Marissa Mayer’s Biography

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Marissa Mayer taking notes

Photo courtesy of Techcrunch

I recently came across a Business Insider article on Marissa Mayer’s unauthorized biography. It actually made for an interesting, yet very long, read. From that biography I picked up a number of lessons that can pertain to anyone’s business or employment situation. Here are some.

While Marissa Mayer Was at Google

1. Don’t Make it Too Much Like School

We all know and love Google and it’s campus-y, fun work place. However, that’s as much “school” as it should get. Don’t make it where you come across as a principal/teacher with set visiting hours at 5 minutes at a time, then applying this policy for underlings, but co-workers and higher-ups as well. There has to be a way to deal with the stress or managing too many people. This leads to:

2. Learn to Delegate to Underlings

This supposedly was Marissa Mayer’s strength and weakness at the same time. Someone who could function on 4 hours of sleep and work 100 hour workweeks doesn’t learn to delegate work as s/he does everything already. However, as a company like Google grows this is not a scalable trait.

Delegating responsibilities to underlings is a trait that makes a good one great. This also applies to many different aspects of life. For example, I have seen large families with more than 10 children successfully manage such an operation by having the older children manage the younger ones. While every family dynamic is different and each child is unique, this actually also builds valuable leadership qualities for the older children at a very young age.

Biblically, the character Moses actually got to the point in the desert where he in fact was overwhelmed by the numerous questions the Israelites had for him. His father-in-law Jethro had to step in and advise Moses that this system is designed to wear him out, and that it’s better to establish a system of Rabbis, one for every thousand people, one for every hundred, and one for every ten. This allowed Moses to go from great to greater.

Learn to delegate and in many cases, get the job done in a manner where you don’t need to work 100 hour shifts.

3. When You’re Invited to Meetings, You’d Better Attend Every One

This was  allegedly one of the reasons why Marissa Mayer was passed up for promotions. She would attend the meetings with respect to Search, but not attend the business-oriented meetings as they disinterested her. Being that Google, like all tech companies, are a business first, Marissa should have been present so that at the very least, her face would have been seen and perhaps she would have been more sooner promoted than not. That’s not to say that this was what did it, but from this article, it seems like this was a factor.

4. Try to Not Put Yourself in a Conflict Situation

Let’s face it: we all run into situations of conflict at work. However, there’s conflict where someone else causes it and then there’s conflict where you argue against a consensus simply because you may be right.  Marissa Mayer did that and she eventually got pegged as a troublemaker by not being able to work with others that saw Google from the business side of things. Sometimes, admitting that not everything is ideal and perfect, and that setting aside your ego for other sensible options will help advance your career in a company without having to risk possibly “moving on to greener pastures,” where you might grow or fall flat doing so.

5. Try Focusing As Much as Possible On The Business Side and Less on Minute Details

As per the point before, in a business your value is based on how much money you can potentially bring to the company – very little else. What’s interesting about Marissa Mayer is that she  appeared early on to not possess that trait, focusing too much on the pixel size of a graphic. This actually caused employees to quit on her. Later on at Yahoo, utilizing that trait to redo Yahoo mail for mobile devices brought in money to Yahoo as she recognized that the smallest detail in a widely-used application can make a difference of millions of dollars.

6. Don’t Out-Talk the Next Person

One of Marissa Mayer’s quirks is that she has the propensity to talk fast. Not just fast, I mean Speedy Gonzalez fast. Watching a sample lecture of her teaching at Stanford should give some idea on how fast she talks. On one hand, this makes sense as nerds with tons of info and no time want to spit out as much information as possible. I get that.

Her ability to out-talk the next person was also a trait she learned in high school as a successful member of the debate team. Her quick thinking/talking helped her advance in that and many other endeavours, which in turn looked so good on paper that she was a shoo-in to being accepted to the 10 finest universities in the country.

However, when this translates into the workplace, it can potentially mean disaster. People don’t want to feel inferior, and Marissa Mayer made many people feel just that. In an industry dominated by men, many began to feel emasculated by her presence and unwillingness to share the floor. A number of Google executives got fed up to the point of saying “it’s either her or me.”

Bottom-line, don’t place yourself in such a position. Sometimes it’s better to be wise than to be right.

7. Most Decisions Can Be Solved With a Spreadsheet

Believe it or not, some of the worlds’ billionaires got to where they were because they analyzed difficult decisions using a spreadsheet for data. Seymour Schulich for example mentioned in his book “Get Smarter” that what he would do was to weigh the pros of each decision and attach a number to it, from 1 to 10. In the end, adding the numbers up would make ones decision much easier to make. This is best solved with a spreadsheet. In Marissa Mayer’s case, she would use a spreadsheet for EVERYTHING, from choosing the university to attend to the minute design of a logo.

8. Expect to Hit the Glass Ceiling Down the Road If You Date Your Boss and It Doesn’t Work Out

It’s not actually proven, but Business Insider mentioned that Marissa Mayer’s failed date with Larry Page may have eventually led her to be “out of his L-team” when he re-took the role of CEO at Google. The reason some have that  she wasn’t added to his team or reported to him simply was because it “would be unethical and show favoritism.” Zing!

9. Don’t Flaunt Your Wealth

During Google’s early years, when employees/stakeholders became overnight millionaires, the official policy was to fire someone on the spot if they came in with flashy, expensive items one day. The message to convey was that Google was above simply making more money and more about helping the world at large (while making money). Marissa Mayer seemed to have ignored that lesson when she started wearing designer suits, dresses and clothes. This also may have contributed to her not being promoted.

While Marissa Mayer Was Switching from Google to Yahoo

10. Nothing is Guaranteed

Just ask Ross Levinsohn. Mr. Levinsohn was apparently a shoo-in for the job of Yahoo CEO, only for it to slip from him when his final vision clashed with other Yahoo bigwigs.

Also, look at former Google executive Michael Barrett. He thought he was a shoo-in for a the position of COO (Chief Operating Officer) of Yahoo before Henrique De Castro, “the most interesting man in the world,” practically stole the job from him without any notice from Marissa Mayer (he found out through a website, AllThingsD.com). Michael Barrett ended up looking for new work shortly afterward, though he left with a severance package worth millions of dollars.

11. Turn a Negative Into a Positive

Take a lesson from Marissa Mayer’s seeming demotion from Google Search to Google Maps, which was a much more inferior product. Marissa focused on the management side of things where her management staff dramatically increased, and this was what in some ways “sealed the deal” in her move to Yahoo CEO.

During Marissa Mayer’s Tenure at Yahoo

12. Lateness Doesn’t Count So Much (Surprisingly)

This is something I hold dear. It seems to be that the richer you are, the later you can afford to be. Marissa Mayer has been reputed to arrive at meetings and calls at least 45 minutes to an hour late, and at times even later than that. I have personally met millionaires, billionaires, and keynote speakers do the same thing. I guess that means…

13. Nobody Used to Be Held Accountable: People Used to Work From Home and Take Advantage

I worked for a certain internet marketing company in 2008-2009 where a few of the co-workers were present were ex-Yahoo executives looking to jump ship and stay at a small company until better-paying work could be found. I found one to love taking credit for himself when things were going his way, and for the most part blame others for when things didn’t go as planned, since it never was his fault. In business this is called CYA (covering your ass[ets]), yet it seemed to be exercised more often than not.

This apparently was the culture at Yahoo until very recently. Now that Marissa Mayer has taken the helm there is a new system where everyone is accountable. For example, a while ago Marissa Mayer revoked the privilege of working from home since she found through intelligent data that when people were surfing the web, they were navigating through more personal sites than business-related sites. She also monitored the times people were logged in through the company’s VPN system and found that too many people weren’t logged in for the better part of the workday. Those that took advantage of an iffy system at best can no longer get away with that -er, that’s assuming that they’re still employed at Yahoo.

14. The Larger The Company,  The More The Smallest Thing Matters

Marissa Mayer made it even more of a point to focus on the tiniest pixel of an image when her data proved that this made the difference of millions of dollars. Say what you will, but if you can prove that focusing on such minute details brings in lots of money, then go for it. This especially applies to large companies where every little thing makes a huge difference.