Marissa Mayer says her Google bosses ‘yelled at us until we became what they needed us to become’ — and it wasn’t a bad thing

It was about setting clear expectations, said Marissa Mayer, pictured. Brian Ach/Getty Images
  • Yahoo’s former CEO is Marissa Mayer, who was one of the first employees at Google. Mayer was recently interviewed by The New York Times.
  • Mayer told The Times that she modelled her management style at Yahoo on Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin’s leadership strategies. One example is setting clear expectations for employees.
  • Still, Mayer wasn’t so well-liked or highly rated as CEO of Yahoo; while Page had a very high approval rating as CEO of Google.

Marissa Mayer, former CEO of Yahoo and one of the first employees at Google, just gave her first interview since leaving Yahoo.

Mayer, who parted ways with Yahoo in 2017 when the company was sold to Verizon, spoke with David Gelles for an instalment of The New York Times’ Corner Office column. One of Mayer’s most interesting comments is that she tried to model her leadership style at Yahoo after Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin’s management style in the early days of Google.

Here’s Mayer: “Larry and Sergey just yelled at us until we became what they needed us to become, and get done what they needed to be done. And so I said, look, I’m going to just rinse and repeat that, hopefully with less yelling.”

Mayer said she brought in management coaches and mentors to help shape Yahoo’s management strategy.

She went on:

“I think you can have high expectations as a leader, and as long as they’re consistent and clearly communicated, a lot of people find that really inspiring. I always knew what Larry and Sergey wanted. I knew what good looked like to them, and so I never got discouraged by them saying, ‘Wait, I don’t think this is ready’ or ‘I think this is overly ready.'”

Mayer and Page were perceived very differently as CEOs of large tech companies

Mayer was probably wise to emulate Page’s leadership strategies: In 2015, he was the highest-rated CEO of a large company, according to Glassdoor. (That was back when Page was still CEO of Google; after a reorganization in 2015, he’s now CEO of Google’s parent company, Alphabet.)

Yet Mayer only cracked the top 50 on Glassdoor’s list of highest-rated CEOs once between 2013 and 2017. And in 2017, she was rated the least likable tech CEO, according to Owler.

Forbes reported in 2015 that Mayer was known among executives as a micromanager. “She would go line by line and decide on what date a contract should end,” a senior executive told Forbes, referring to the terms given to contractors and vendors.

Still, some former Yahoo employees praised Mayer’s leadership skill, such as Jelena Woehr, who wrote on Medium that Mayer always listened closely to employees’ concerns.

Mayer was vague in the interview with The Times about what she’s doing now: She’s working with a company called Lumi Labs and has “some ideas in the consumer space.”

Asked for her best tips on perseverance by Linkedin user Karen Lippman, Meyer said: “Develop a thick skin.”

Read the full interview at The New York Times »