“Know thyself.” It is one of the Delphic maxims of ancient Greece, carved into the Temple of Apollo. It is sage advice but also a warning — one that Yahoo and its CEO Marissa Mayer still have not heeded.
Is Yahoo a media company or a tech company? That’s the central question that has dogged the once-dominant Internet company for the better part of a decade. It was the question Steve Jobs posed in 2007 when he visited the company headquarters. It’s also the question Mayer told people in 2014 to stop asking.
But it’s a relevant question, particularly as Yahoo shells out millions to buy expensive talent and buy its way into coolness in the fickle, unprofitable world of media. At the same time, investors breathing down Mayer’s neck about how she has handled Yahoo over the last three-and-a-half years. Her critics point out that the company is spending like a tech company — lavish salaries, perks and parties for employees and billions of dollars in company acquisitions — but performing like a media company.
Mayer may still be unsure of what Yahoo is, but investors appear to have little doubt. It is a dying media company that needs to either be sold or stripped down to its barest bones.
In other words, it’s time to give up on a Yahoo turnaround.
Hey big spender
Mayer’s time as CEO has been marked by one thing: Spending.
Whether it’s big media names like Katie Couric or big acquisitions like Tumblr, Mayer has been laying out cash in an attempt to remake the company’s image and infrastructure.
The spending has put something of a shinier veneer on the company, but now it looks like little more than window dressing.
Yahoo employees enjoy high-end perks like free iPhones and food while Mayer throws big, expensive parties that feature widely criticized gimmicks around the Great Gatsby and The Wizard of Oz.
She’s hired numerous major media names to head up a variety of verticals, paying salaries that are multiples of even the high end in media. Yahoo star Katie Couric reportedly makes $10 million a year despite little evidence that she’s resonating with Yahoo readers. Most recently it was the hiring of former Time Inc. executive Martha Nelson as the editor in chief of Yahoo’s media side, at $5 million per year. Anna Wintour, the editor of Vogue, by comparison, makes around $2 million.