Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer is one of the tech industry’s most exciting figures.
Publicly, she’s gone from being “the blonde woman in computer science classes” at Stanford to running one of the oldest names in consumer Internet history in less than two decades. She makes billion-dollar acquisition decisions and has made Yahoo — once an afterthought in the post dot-com boom era — a hot topic on tech blogs and mainstream news sites alike.
Behind the scenes, she’s earned something of a reputation for being a strong personality in the workplace — controlling discussions and always assuming that her view is right. Often she turns out to be just that.
Below, we’ve organised the quotes that chart both her rise and the life-long personality traits that enabled it.
Brian Jojade took Advanced Maths with Mayer in eighth grade. One day, he called in to a local radio station to ask if they would announce that it was her birthday on-air. “She wasn’t amused at all. You could just tell it wasn’t fun for her,” he later recalled.
Wausau West High School Yearbook, 1993
A photo from Mayer’s yearbook.
In high school, Mayer was allowed 20-minute breaks during the day. According to classmate Elize Bazter, “She would be the person to come down, get something to eat from the kitchen or the vending machines, and then she would go to the library or the science lab to study. She wouldn’t be the one to stay and sit there and converse for 20 minutes.”
Wausau West High School Yearbook
Mayer was on Wausau West’s state championship winning debate team
Looking back on her time before college, Mayer herself notes: “It wasn’t until I was a professional woman mentoring other girls in maths and science that I learned that openly liking maths and science is unusual for girls. It’s actually considered far too nerdy and far too much for the boys. Wausau schools were so supportive that I never felt strange for a second about pursuing maths and science and being good in them.”
Josh Elman, venture capitalist and a former member of one of Mayer’s study groups at Stanford, distinctly remembers their time working together: “It felt like she was the smartest student in the room — and the most serious. You always knew those two things about her. Very smart. Very serious.”
After grad school at Stanford, Mayer was presented with over a dozen job offers in the tech industry. “My quest to find, and be surrounded by, smart people is what brought me to Google,” she says.
Discussing her time at the company, Google co-founder Sergey Brin says: “Marissa makes the decisions she feels are right, and history proves that she probably calls it right.”
In 2009, Vogue Magazine ran a profile of Mayer, describing her as “the 34-year-old mega-millionaire, Oscar de la Renta-obsessed, computer-programming Google executive who lives in a penthouse atop the Four Seasons.”
A photo from Vogue’s piece on Mayer.
“She doesn’t need any sleep. When you have four or five more hours in the day than most people do, you don’t learn to delegate because you don’t need to,” says Craig Silverstein, the Google engineer who originally hired Mayer. Many Googlers cite Mayer’s constant oversight as a frequent point of conflict when describing her time there.
When Yahoo’s board discussed the company’s future with Mayer at an informal dinner, she shocked everyone with a surprisingly detailed plan for the company going forward. “That’s the next CEO of Yahoo,” a member of the board stated after she left.
Business Insider/Julie Bort screenshot
“The baby’s been way easier than everyone made it out to be,” Mayer joked during a conference on women in business, two months after giving birth.
Mayer started a weekly event called “FYI” at Yahoo, where they’d go over the company’s plans and she would take questions. Here’s how one executive described the meetings: “She is deified. The first 50 rows are packed with the engineering team and they’re cheering her on. There is no question that there’s a palpable level of energy and renewed enthusiasm and renewed pride.”
This is not one of Mayer’s “FYI” meetings.
“You have to give Marissa a lot of credit. Just because I don’t like what she’s done to me and I don’t like what she’s done to many other people, doesn’t mean I’m going to shy away from giving her credit. She brought life back to Yahoo. There’s no question about it,” says one person at Yahoo who has had clashed with Mayer.