Since Marissa Mayer became the chief executive officer of Yahoo! (NASDAQ: YHOO) a year ago, the company has gone on a much-publicized buying binge. The nagging question is whether the splashy headlines have done more to boost Mayer's image as a go-getter than Yahoo's growth prospects.
Mayer, a 38-year-old native of Wisconsin, has announced a dizzying array of 17 acquisitions -- which works out to a record of practically one every three weeks. As reported by AllThingsD, In early July, Yahoo! bought Qwiki, a New York start-up that produces an iOS app which automatically permits users to convert photos, videos, and music into short films. It pegged the purchase of the mobile video app at a price from $40 million to $50 million. Just yesterday, Yahoo! made another acquisition, purchasing personal email management tool Xobni.
That deal came on the heels of the news that Yahoo! had paid an unreported amount of money to gobble up Bignoggins, which makes fantasy sports apps Fantasy Monster and Draft Monster, The Verge noted. When Yahoo! rolled out fantasy sports leagues in 1999, it was among the initial prominent Internet players to serve the online sports universe. By taking over Bignoggins, Mayer wants to introduce its universe to the mobile world.
Back on March 25, you'll recall, Yahoo! spent $30 million to acquire Summly, a news-summary app that had been the brainchild of 17-year-old British entrepreneur Nick D'Aloiso (who had launched the company at the age of 15).
Not all of Mayer's moves have centered on small companies. Remember, Yahoo! also acquired Tumblr for $1.1 billion in a deal that closed on June 20. Twenty-six-year-old David Karp had founded the site in 2007 (and he will stay on as Tumblr's chief executive).
You might say that no deal is too small -- or, in the case of Tumblr, too big -- for Mayer's Yahoo! to digest. For better or worse, she's making "action" the company's mantra. Of course, a corporate takeover is a little like a trade in professional sports, in that an onlooker can't completely judge the move's success for a few years.
Skeptics will insist that Mayer's moves put Yahoo! no closer to throwing a scare into Google, her former employer of 13 years, and represent, first and foremost, public-relations triumphs for the new CEO.
The naysayers suggest further that Mayer herself is the biggest beneficiary of the spate of headline-generating acquisitions. Each one is meant to reinforce the friendly media's notion that Mayer is breathing life into moribund and meandering Yahoo! (And yes, you betcha that journalists appreciate Mayer: She constantly creates news, which translates into excitement and controversy, the stuff that journalists thrive on.)
Mayer's defenders point out that her dealmaking is accomplishing several objectives. First, she's positioning Yahoo! to compete more prominently in the mobile space, which is being regarded as the most likely growth area for the near future in the tech world.
But beyond the tangible gains that Mayer's Yahoo! can reap, she's also injecting a new kind of spirit into a company that had been given up for dead. With its revolving-door mentality in the corner office, Yahoo! had failed to establish a clear identity in Silicon Valley. Mayer has made it clear that Yahoo! stands for mobile.
Even without doing deals, Mayer has been putting her stamp on the company, and challenging Silicon Valley conventions. Early in her tenure, she shook up Yahoo! by declaring that her employees would, from that point on, be required to work in the company's offices, and not, as had become the custom, from home.
Mayer wanted to inject a greater sense of camaraderie at the company, and she hoped that by working together, employees would bounce ideas off one another. Still, as admirable as this sounds in theory, the lingering point was whether she made this move as a way to keep Yahoo!'s and her own name in the media's breathless headlines.
True, a year ago, Yahoo! needed all of the positive publicity that Mayer could accumulate. Before her arrival, in July 2012, the company was perhaps best known for the tumult in its corner office. Indeed, Mayer was the third person to preside over a Yahoo! annual meeting in as many years, following Ross Levinsohn and Carol Bartz.
In addition to announcing many takeovers, Mayer has shaped Yahoo! in another key way. She has chopped 1,000 jobs in her first year, through a combination of attrition, and tougher performance requirements. She also said that there are 10 times that number of new applicants streaming in each week, the Silicon Valley Business Journal reported.
There were 15,000 full-time employees, and 3,000 part-timers, when she arrived. As of its latest SEC filing, the company had 11,300 full-time staffers.
Mayer can take comfort that she has won over a key constituent: the company's shareholders. They certainly should have no complaints about Mayer's aggressive management style. Since Mayer arrived a year ago, Yahoo!'s stock is up 63% compared with a 20% gain from the benchmark S&P 500 index.
Say this for Mayer. Her incarnation of Yahoo! now represents one of the most fascinating stories unfolding in Silicon Valley -- no small feat in itself. And yes, Mayer has succeeded in creating excitement.
But the real question is whether she can conjure up long-term value, too.
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