Marissa Mayer has been Yahoo’s CEO for one year. But for a short while, she didn’t think she was going to get the job.
After a series of stealth interviews with the company’s board, Mayer was told she’d be notified by phone if she got the position. When she didn’t receive a call, she thought she was getting passed up.
Mayer had pursued the position in total secrecy. She had to say the code words “project cardinal” to a limo driver waiting outside her Palo Alto home, who then drove her to a Silicon Valley law firm for a meeting with Yahoo’s board. The board was supposed to call with its decision by 8 p.m. When the hour arrived, she and her husband, investor Zachary Bogue, were at a dinner party, and Mayer was battling the urge to keep checking her phone. “I saw such an opportunity here,” she says, “and felt like I had so many ideas.” She also felt that after 10-plus years at Google, it was time to leave.
At 9:45 p.m., Mayer’s phone was still silent. She was crestfallen and making frantic hand gestures to Bogue that she wanted to leave the party. (Bogue, enjoying his seat next to former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Joe Montana, wanted to stay.) Finally, as they were saying their goodbyes, Mayer got a call from Jim Citrin, a partner at Yahoo’s executive recruitment firm, Spencer Stuart. Propriety demanded she let it go to voice mail. A year later in the Yahoo cafeteria, she taps her iPhone screen and plays it: “Marissa … you should be smiling,” Citrin is saying. “We’re smiling. Call me ASAP.”