Marissa Mayer's once-favourite Yahoo executive has suddenly lost a lot of his power

Yahoo senior vice president Adam Cahan used to be one of the most powerful executives at the company.

All that has suddenly changed.

Late last year, Mayer began to re-imagine her organisation of Yahoo. In the re-organisation she pictured, Cahan had a much less powerful role.

That re-org finally went through over the past few weeks. Today, Cahan is no longer in charge of Yahoo’s most important mobile product, Yahoo Mail. He’s no longer in charge of Flickr.

In fact, a source tells us Cahan is only responsible for two Yahoo products: Yahoo Screen, a YouTube/Hulu clone, and a not-yet-released messaging product.

To understand how big a fall this is for Cahan, you need some context.

Shortly after Marissa Mayer became the CEO of Yahoo in 2012, she learned that the company only had about 60 people working on mobile apps full time.

This alarmed her — and for a good reason. Facebook and Google already had thousands of people working on apps.

Mayer began looking for an executive who could fix the problem.

A Yahoo board member named Michael Wolf suggested a candidate: Adam Cahan.

Wolf and Cahan had once worked together at Viacom. Later, Cahan worked at Google and became the CEO of a startup. That startup was called IntoNow. It sold to Yahoo in 2011.

Mayer took Wolf’s advice and promoted Cahan two levels. She made him senior vice president of mobile.

Soon Cahan became one of Yahoo’s most powerful executives. In order to provide him with mobile developers to lead, Mayer went out and bought dozens of failed mobile startups.

Cahan was in charge of all Yahoo apps. This included apps for Yahoo’s legacy products, like Mail and Flickr, as well as new apps like Yahoo Weather and News Digest.

Eventually, Cahan was running a team of more than 500. Inside Yahoo, he was regarded as the second most powerful executive at the company. Occasionally, a Yahoo source would describe him as Yahoo’s CEO-in-waiting or unofficial chief product officer.

Cahan made a few enemies in his role. Some of them spoke to us. These people describe him as a screamer. They say he’s quick to take credit for the work of others. These sources talk about how Cahan once went on stage to accept a design award from Apple for Yahoo’s weather app, even though it had not originally been his idea or project.

Cahan held Mayer’s favour and his power for two years — from the fall of 2012 to the fall of 2014.

Mayer’s new favourite executive seems to be senior vice president Jeff Bonforte. Bonforte joined Yahoo through its acquisition of email-management startup Xobni. Now, he’s in charge of Yahoo Mail on desktop and mobile, Yahoo’s efforts to take on Google Now (a project code-named “Index”), Flickr, and more. Bonforte’s team is also developing its own messaging product to rival the one in development by Cahan’s team.

Yahoo declined to comment on this story.

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