Marissa Mayer, Google's 20th employee, becomes Yahoo!'s new CEO

A move up and out for Google's star

Marissa Mayer, a Silicon Valley veteran who was previously the head of local, maps and location services at Google, has been hired by Yahoo! to come in as their new CEO, their third in ten months and fifth in three years.

Mayer is one of Google's superstars. As the company's 20th employee, she is responsible for much of the backbone of the company, from the iconic simple white homepage (the original was never as good looking) to some of the its strongest products, such as GMail, Google Images and Google News. She was also Google's first female engineer, and has consistently been one of the most important players.

But Mayer also hit a ceiling at Google. The "triumvirate" of co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin and the company's longest-running CEO, Eric Schmidt, was impossible to break into, leaving her one tier down. She still ran a very important department, and was on the company's operating committee, but there was little to no chance of her moving to one of the top jobs. Even though it comes as a surprise, then, her departure makes sense.

From Yahoo!'s point of view, choosing Mayer is very important for one key choice the company has to make: whether to turn towards media, or remain a tech company. Like AOL, another internet services company which leveraged its "portal" into a powerful content provision network, Yahoo! is a valuable media company in its own right, and many had assumed that its new CEO would come from that realm. But the inference one can draw from the hiring of Mayer is that Yahoo! views itself as a tech company first and foremost, and is trying to get that house in order before it goes anywhere further.

Neither arm of the company has been particularly well run for the past few years, and Mayer has her work cut out for her. PaidContent reports the board's belief that "most of the company is search and mail and the home page," core competencies which Mayer will be familiar with, but which are also undoubtedly withering under Yahoo! as it is currently constituted.

And when it comes to more forward-looking services, Yahoo! has a poor history indeed. The company has previously acquired and killed – or as good as killed – the popular companies Flickr and Del.icio.us, earning it a twin reputation of being dangerous to be bought by and not the sort of place you want to keep your data. Mayer will have to work hard to overcome that reputation, and if the company can't buy its way out of the trouble, it will have to innovate instead, particularly when it comes to the mobile sector, where it has barely any presence at all.

Mayer has a peculiar set of incentives going into her new role. Having started at Google long before the company was profitable, she spent a lot of time being paid in equity: equity which is now extremely valuable. As a result, she is probably one of the few CEOs of a Fortune 500 company for whom her actual remuneration doesn't really count for much. Whether this is a good thing, allowing her to focus on the long term without worrying about the source of her next paycheck, or a bad thing, enabling her to take the sort of risks that no one ever would if they had "skin in the game", remains to be seen.

She is also a example of a woman determined to, in the words of a current debate, "have it all": Mayer is expecting a son in early October. The Yahoo! board didn't know that when they first approached her, but were reportedly unconcerned when they found out last Wednesday. Mayer, for her part, doesn't expect it to conflict with her new role. She told Fortune:

I like to stay in the rhythm of things. My maternity leave will be a few weeks long and I'll work throughout it.

Marissa Mayer. Photograph: Getty Images

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

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Find the EU renegotiation demands dull? Me too – but they are important

It's an old trick: smother anything in enough jargon and you can avoid being held accountable for it.

I don’t know about you, but I found the details of Britain’s European Union renegotiation demands quite hard to read. Literally. My eye kept gliding past them, in an endless quest for something more interesting in the paragraph ahead. It was as if the word “subsidiarity” had been smeared in grease. I haven’t felt tedium quite like this since I read The Lord of the Rings and found I slid straight past anything written in italics, reasoning that it was probably another interminable Elvish poem. (“The wind was in his flowing hair/The foam about him shone;/Afar they saw him strong and fair/Go riding like a swan.”)

Anyone who writes about politics encounters this; I call it Subclause Syndrome. Smother anything in enough jargon, whirr enough footnotes into the air, and you have a very effective shield for protecting yourself from accountability – better even than gutting the Freedom of Information laws, although the government seems quite keen on that, too. No wonder so much of our political conversation ends up being about personality: if we can’t hope to master all the technicalities, the next best thing is to trust the person to whom we have delegated that job.

Anyway, after 15 cups of coffee, three ice-bucket challenges and a bottle of poppers I borrowed from a Tory MP, I finally made it through. I didn’t feel much more enlightened, though, because there were notable omissions – no mention, thankfully, of rolling back employment protections – and elsewhere there was a touching faith in the power of adding “language” to official documents.

One thing did stand out, however. For months, we have been told that it is a terrible problem that migrants from Europe are sending child benefit to their families back home. In future, the amount that can be claimed will start at zero and it will reach full whack only after four years of working in Britain. Even better, to reduce the alleged “pull factor” of our generous in-work benefits regime, the child benefit rate will be paid on a ratio calculated according to average wages in the home country.

What a waste of time. At the moment, only £30m in child benefit is sent out of the country each year: quite a large sum if you’re doing a whip round for a retirement gift for a colleague, but basically a rounding error in the Department for Work and Pensions budget.

Only 20,000 workers, and 34,000 children, are involved. And yet, apparently, this makes it worth introducing 28 different rates of child benefit to be administered by the DWP. We are given to understand that Iain Duncan Smith thinks this is barmy – and this is a man optimistic enough about his department’s computer systems to predict in 2013 that 4.46 million people would be claiming Universal Credit by now*.

David Cameron’s renegotiation package was comprised exclusively of what Doctor Who fans call handwavium – a magic substance with no obvious physical attributes, which nonetheless helpfully advances the plot. In this case, the renegotiation covers up the fact that the Prime Minister always wanted to argue to stay in Europe, but needed a handy fig leaf to do so.

Brace yourself for a sentence you might not read again in the New Statesman, but this makes me feel sorry for Chris Grayling. He and other Outers in the cabinet have to wait at least two weeks for Cameron to get the demands signed off; all the while, Cameron can subtly make the case for staying in Europe, while they are bound to keep quiet because of collective responsibility.

When that stricture lifts, the high-ranking Eurosceptics will at last be free to make the case they have been sitting on for years. I have three strong beliefs about what will happen next. First, that everyone confidently predicting a paralysing civil war in the Tory ranks is doing so more in hope than expectation. Some on the left feel that if Labour is going to be divided over Trident, it is only fair that the Tories be split down the middle, too. They forget that power, and patronage, are strong solvents: there has already been much muttering about low-level blackmail from the high command, with MPs warned about the dire influence of disloyalty on their career prospects.

Second, the Europe campaign will feature large doses of both sides solemnly advising the other that they need to make “a positive case”. This will be roundly ignored. The Remain team will run a fear campaign based on job losses, access to the single market and “losing our seat at the table”; Leave will run a fear campaign based on the steady advance of whatever collective noun for migrants sounds just the right side of racist. (Current favourite: “hordes”.)

Third, the number of Britons making a decision based on a complete understanding of the renegotiation, and the future terms of our membership, will be vanishingly small. It is simply impossible to read about subsidiarity for more than an hour without lapsing into a coma.

Yet, funnily enough, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Just as the absurd complexity of policy frees us to talk instead about character, so the onset of Subclause Syndrome in the EU debate will allow us to ask ourselves a more profound, defining question: what kind of country do we want Britain to be? Polling suggests that very few of us see ourselves as “European” rather than Scottish, or British, but are we a country that feels open and looks outwards, or one that thinks this is the best it’s going to get, and we need to protect what we have? That’s more vital than any subclause. l

* For those of you keeping score at home, Universal Credit is now allegedly going to be implemented by 2021. Incidentally, George Osborne has recently discovered that it’s a great source of handwavium; tax credit cuts have been postponed because UC will render such huge savings that they aren’t needed.

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.

This article first appeared in the 11 February 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The legacy of Europe's worst battle