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After a year at Yahoo, Mayer still sprinting to catch up

Zach Miners | July 16, 2013
With Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer taking steps to transform the company back into a top-tier player, reports are out that Yahoo is in talks to buy Hulu for as much as $800 million.

Since taking the reins as Yahoo's CEO a year ago this week, Marissa Mayer has set out to revamp the struggling Internet company with a series of rapid fire acquisitions that could make even her former colleagues at Google envious.

In a strategy she has described as "a series of sprints," Mayer has bought more than a dozen companies this year alone, mostly in pursuit of her goal of taking the lead in mobile, and to bring back the cool to a brand that was once the envy of Silicon Valley but somehow came to symbolize the very opposite of innovation.

She's had some success, especially on the financial side. Yahoo's stock has risen roughly 70 percent since Mayer started there on July 17 last year, and analysts expect a 12 percent jump in profit when Yahoo reports its quarterly earnings Tuesday.

But it's a long haul to make a tarnished brand shiny and new again, and despite buying up youthful brands like Tumblr, and revamping services like Flickr and Yahoo Mail, analysts say Mayer still has a way to go before she can claim to have brought Yahoo back from the brink.

Right now, "the only thing less cool than Yahoo is maybe Microsoft or Dell," said Erik Gordon, managing director at the University of Michigan's Zell Lurie Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies.

One measure of a CEO's success is his or her impact on a company's financial performance, and here Mayer can take only part of the credit. The reputation she accrued from her long history at Google — she joined the company in 1999 and most recently ran its important local and mapping products — could be one of Yahoo's strongest assets, according to some. "She's got this celebrity status in the Valley," said Karsten Weide, an analyst with IDC.

"I think that's one of the factors that has pushed the stock price higher over the past year," he said.

But another factor has been Yahoo's stake in profitable Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba. "The majority of the share price increase has come from the appreciation in value of Yahoo's holding in Alibaba, so Marissa cannot be credited with that," said Andreas Pourous, co-founder and COO of technology consulting firm Greenlight.

Yahoo paid $1 billion for a 40 percent stake in Alibaba back in 2005, but it sold off nearly half that stake last year. Going forward, "the company will not benefit with as much appreciation as it previously has done, which in part helps explain some of Marissa's actions," Pourous said.

Those actions include a slew of acquisitions designed to further her strategy to bring Yahoo back to life. Her plan is to excel at mobile, draw in a more youthful audience, and provide services that become a part of people's daily habits, such as posting photos online and checking news, email, weather, stock prices and sports.


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