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Marissa Mayer intends to restore Yahoo’s stature as a technological innovator and will not shy away from tough competition to that end, the former Google executive told the Financial Times as she begins her tenure as the struggling web portal’s latest chief executive.
The 37-year-old Wisconsonite indicated she was ready to compete with her former employer on tough battlegrounds such as search, while defending her understanding of the advertising industry upon which Yahoo’s revenues rely.
“To me, it starts with being relevant to consumers in their everyday lives – email, search, the homepage and now mobile,” Ms Mayer said in an interview on Monday evening,“ and really innovating in some of the verticals like finance, sports, video and messenger.”
Although Ms Mayer said it was too early to talk about whether Yahoo would make disposals or redundancies – areas in which many analysts and investors are keenly interested – she said there would be “some element of focusing” on Yahoo’s strengths.
“There are many components of the business that are already going well and we want to work with the teams to make the end user experiences even more compelling,” she said. “Obvious things are the brand, the worldwide following, the huge range of products. Taking those products and making them more innovative and really delighting users with them is something I think is very important.”
Yahoo’s reputation in Silicon Valley for innovation and dynamism has waned in recent years as newer online services such as Facebook and Twitter have vied for consumers’ attention. Promising acquisitions early in the development of social networking, such as the photo-sharing site Flickr, have been allowed to wither under Yahoo’s ownership, spurring the departure of their entrepreneurial creators.
Bolstering Yahoo’s products will entail recruiting new talent from outside the company – including her former colleagues at Google – as well as existing employees, Ms Mayer said.
She said she has “absolutely not” signed any undertaking not to recruit Googlers to Yahoo, although will only consider applicants who put themselves forward rather than approaching them.
“Great technology companies are great because they have great people,” she said. “Yahoo has a pure strength in the search and display businesses, a good strategy in video as well as mobile advertising, and a great opportunity to innovate.”
However, Ms Mayer refused to be drawn on the crucial issue of whether she can retain the talents of Ross Levinsohn, Yahoo’s head of global media and the internal candidate she defeated for the role of chief executive.
“I have a tremendous amount of respect for him,” she said, noting that they worked together on Google’s adsales partnership with MySpace, the social network with which Mr Levinsohn worked at News Corp. “He has strong partnerships on the media side. I don’t want to comment more than that on it.”
Ms Mayer plans to conduct a “deep dive” of Yahoo’s business before communicating her strategy, and said she did not want to come out with a “premature vision”. But having visited Japan and China, where Yahoo has local partnerships that some analysts say could unlock substantial value for the company, Ms Mayer said the Asian assets “help Yahoo’s brand globally”.
Answering a question familiar to Yahoo’s string of incoming chiefs in recent years, Ms Mayer said the company could be both a media destination and a technological innovator.
“To me it’s a non-debate,” she said. “You look at a lot of technology companies and they have a media component – that’s true of Amazon, Facebook and Google. To me I really do think that this is about building services that delight end users, and this starts with technology. That said, media will continue to be important to Yahoo.”
To that end, she will pursue more of the media partnerships that Yahoo has struck in recent months with the likes of Spotify, Clear Channel and CNBC as well as Facebook. However, despite Yahoo’s limited success in tying up with Microsoft’s Bing, a search deal with Google is “probably not on the cards”, she said, after the two companies’ talk of such an agreement was blocked by regulators some years ago.
Ms Mayer defended her business experience in the face of some observers’ concerns that she has never run a public company, noting that she was a launch engineer on Google’s AdWords product and highlighting her recent run as general manager for Google’s local advertising business. She also pointed out that managed how advertising was displayed on Google’s search results pages for eight years.