What I learned by watching a Marissa Mayer interview

What I learned by watching a Marissa Mayer interview
Courtesy Yahoo, cc

Yesterday I watched Emily Chang interview Marissa Mayer, Yahoo!’s CEO, on Bloomberg. My immediate takeaway? I was thoroughly unimpressed with Mayer. 

I know that’s a harsh, and possibly unreasonable, judgment to make after one interview. Still, she lacked charisma. I was frustrated by how little thought she gave to any of the questions. (She basically started speaking immediately after the question was asked, with no pause for reflection.) She went back to her theme of “pride” several times, and completely dodged a couple of questions.

Let’s start with the pride. In a nine minute window, she said she was proud of the Yahoo! team five times. There’s nothing wrong with being proud of your team. It’s just a little awkward when you mention it five times in a relatively short period of time. Here’s what she said:

I couldn’t be prouder with how the teams have executed throughout this period of uncertainty

[…]

I’m incredibly proud of the growth we’ve had. We took mobile, video, native, and social…we identified those early, and grew them to $1.6 billion in revenue from basically nothing, in 2011. And I’m incredibly proud of that.

[…]

I’m really proud of the team here, and I’m proud of the accomplishments.

Okay. Understood. Mayer is proud of what she and her team accomplished, even though from the outside looking in, it looks like failure.

She dodged a couple of questions. One was about Alibaba, whether she thought Yahoo!’s stake in Alibaba made things easier or more difficult on her as CEO. She only said Alibaba was “a tremendous company”. Totally punted on that one. 

I was much more frustrated with this dodge…

Emily Chang: Is there anything that you would have done differently, even one thing, when you look back on the last four years?

Marissa Mayer: I think, overall, when I think about things, I prefer to be more focused on the future…

I think this point in the interview was where I totally soured on Marissa Mayer. It was such a disingenuous response. You’re selling your business after years of struggle. You’ve had a difficult relationship with investors over that time. Emily Chang even gives you an out, asking for a single tiny thing you might have done differently…and you move right along, as if the question wasn’t even asked.

Look, I understand not everyone is going to give A+ interviews. Some people are more charismatic and relatable than others. Still, to give so little thought to your answers, and to so blatantly ignore the questions…it’s just frustrating.

I know that Marissa Mayer isn’t obligated to offer candid, introspective answers for any given interviewer. But yesterday was an important day. It’s the end of Yahoo!’s story as a standalone company. We’re trying to process the information, to learn the essential business lessons, to understand what life is like for an executive in that situation. And Marissa Mayer gave us the equivalent of a long stare into the camera with a raised middle finger.

Alright, so what’s the big deal? Why bother even caring about this? I think the right response is to use my disappointment with Mayer’s interview as fuel for further appreciation of people like Steve Jobs. 

I know, the Steve Jobs drum has been beaten way too many times. The reason is because he had interesting things to say. Even with boring, softball questions, he could share some helpful insight. Richard Branson does the same thing. So does Elon Musk. And Jeff Bezos.

I think someone like Marissa Mayer should make us all appreciate the people who have interesting things to say, and then say those things publicly. Emily Chang tried hard by asking some questions that required introspection. Mayer simply refused to play along.

Another lesson is to take a second to reflect when someone asks you an introspective question. If someone asks you a question, pause…then offer your considered answer. The Marissa Mayer interview showed me how obnoxious it is when someone asks a probing question, only to have the other person talk right past it and pretend like the question was never asked.

This happens to all of us, daily. Think about what someone else might think of your brief, immediate answer. They might think you didn’t bother to listen to their question. They might think you didn’t think their question was worth answering. They might think you have a habit of formulating thoughts as you speak, which can be unflattering.

I probably sound more worked up about the Marissa Mayer interview than I actually am. I’m more frustrated by an opportunity lost. Emily Chang is a good interviewer. She builds a nice rapport with her guests. She does a good job leading people into interesting waters, and then letting them explore a bit, for all of us to see and hear.

None of that really happened with Marissa Mayer. We got a rushed interview with zero introspection and some canned talking points. I know, it’s not terribly surprising for a business executive to communicate this way. I was just hoping for more from Ms. Mayer.

1 Comment


  1. // Reply

    She cant hold a convo because she is aspie.

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