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To get some perspective, we reached out to an executive recruiter who formerly worked for one of the big four executive search firms focusing on digital media. He has requested anonymity because he is still in the industry.
He said that within the headhunting community, “not too many of us were surprised.” The search was led by Jim Citron of recruiting agency Spencer Stuart (one of the big four firms), and many viewed the job as interim CEO Ross Levinsohn’s to lose, especially since a new CEO would be Yahoo’s sixth leader in five years.
“I can almost assure you that there were three to five other ‘surprise names’ on the list,” our source tells us. With these types of searches, he says, you’ll look at a number of the obvious companies, like Amazon, AOL, and Google, and then look beyond the founders and talk to five or six executives under them.
“Spencer Stuart did a great job keeping everything confidential. When a search is being conducted, the candidates have to meet with each of the board members, and at this time in the summer over the July 4th holiday, everyone is on vacation and it’s really difficult to schedule 12 to 13 meetings, and this isn’t just one round of interviews. Marissa was on the shortlist from day one.”
Activist board members like Dan Loeb played a huge role in signing off on the decision.
“It is very hard to unseat an incumbent like Ross Levinsohn,” he says. “The bar is much higher when you have an interim CEO. On a recruiting assignment you go with someone you know versus someone you don’t know.”
Mayer announced that she’s pregnant (“she definitely disclosed it to the board members beforehand,” he says), which “adds a real human perspective to the CEO seat, where employees will look at her as a person and not as a figure. It will take her out of the game for a short period of time, but she’ll recruit some lieutenants to join her. … Marissa is a brand, a known entity. She brings a lot of currency to Yahoo.”
Our source says that we can expect to see Levinsohn “land somewhere within 90 days, not necessarily a CEO slot, but recruiters are chasing him down right now.
“There was egg on Yahoo’s face for putting [Scott Thompson] a technologist who’s not a true technologist at the top, and they’re making up for that by bringing in Marissa, who’s a product person.”
As with all big CEO changes, and especially in Yahoo’s case where there’s a huge turnaround needed, we can expect to see a lot of top talent changes at the top. “There were probably a number of loyalists to Ross, and you’ll see turnover from his lieutenants at the top. Plus Marissa will want to bring in her own team that she trusts.”
Whether or not she can bring in top Googlers right away, he says, depends upon whether or not she has a non-solicitation agreement — which states that she can leave the company, but would need to wait, for example, 12 months before poaching top executives from Google.
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