Here is the full transcript of Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer’s fireside talk on Life and Leadership Lessons at Stanford GSB on Thursday, January 26, 2017.
INTERVIEWER: Marissa, it’s such a pleasure to have you here today.
MARISSA MAYER: Thank you for having me.
INTERVIEWER: Welcome back to Stanford.
MARISSA MAYER: I’m very excited to be here.
INTERVIEWER: I’d love to start out with your time at Stanford here. So, you came in pre-med with ambitions to become a physician, and you transitioned over to symbolic systems. What was that pivot like?
MARISSA MAYER: Well so, I was very precise in what I thought I wanted to do. I had looked at a lot of schools before picking Stanford and in those travels, I had met this really fascinating woman, very famous pediatric heart surgeon who works at Duke. And her name is Marjorie Tripp. And I talked to her, and she said, I’m a doctor, I do extraordinary cases, but I also teach at the med school and I thought, that sounded so great. So, I realized that I wasn’t interested in hearts, but I was like, I’ll be a pediatric neurosurgeon, I love kids, and I’m very interested in the brain, how it develops, so I came here very intent on that.
And through my freshman year, I took the chemistry course started getting going on, the biology core, went home for the summer after my freshman year and kind of compared notes with all of my different friends, I’m from Wisconsin, who’d gone to different schools. And I realized that we were learning very much the same things all over. And I thought, I’d had the opportunity to go to University of Wisconsin Madison, it’s a great school. And, because of various scholarships and things, that would have been a nearly free option. Stanford, on the other hand, is very much not free.
INTERVIEWER: It’s still that way.
MARISSA MAYER: And I thought to myself, wait, I’m taking my parents retirement accounts. We’re investing a lot here, and I should do something at Stanford that’s really unique to Stanford. And something that can be done just especially here, and so I started thinking about the fact that I would have a lot of time later in life to specialize, and go on, probably do other degrees. And, so I was thinking of what I wanted to do. And as I was flying back that fall to come back to my sophomore year, I was going through the course catalog and I found this department called Symbolic Systems and it had Philosophy, Psychology, Linguistics and Computer Science all wrapped into one.
And I knew that Stanford was very strong in psychology, very strong in computer science. I had taken CS 105A the previous year, which is funny because it’s the computer science course for non-majors. And the fact that the lecturer opens the class the first day and says, studies have shown that exactly two of you will go on to do anything additional in computer science ever.
INTERVIEWER: In a sea of 400 people.
MARISSA MAYER: Yeah. And so, and I knew I liked computer science though and I had done well in that class, and interested in philosophy but didn’t know a lot about linguistics. Came back, took the introductory syntax course from Professor Tom Wassau. And when I saw him because he was also the director of the Symbolic Systems program, and I knew he would try and sell me on changing my major. He was probably like, okay, look, there’s a special program, most colleges don’t have Symbolic Systems. It combines some of the departments whereas Stanford is really strong. It was something that was of interest to me.
And, the idea of Symbolic Systems is really, how do people learn and think? So, that interest I had in neuroscience was carried over because I realized I was less interested in cutting up brains and more interested in how do you learn, how do you think, because it’s cognitive psychology. How do people learn? Logic, how do people reason? Linguistics, how do people express themselves? And then computer science, can you have a computer that does the same? So AI was of a real interest. But anyway, I want to talk, Professor Sir Wassau, when I walked in and I said, I’m thinking about Symbolic Systems, I’m taking your intro to syntax course. And he said, you should absolutely become a Symbolic Systems major. And I knew he would say that, but then he kind of did this interesting kind of reverse psychology twist where he said, you should absolutely be a Symbolic Systems major.
And I thought he would say because the classes are so good, the lecturers are so good, the professors are so good. But he said, you should absolutely be a Symbolic Systems major. All the most interesting Stanford students are. And it was almost like if you weren’t, you weren’t interesting. But I have to say, it was one of the things that I learned in that, and also went on to learn it at Google and other places at some of my internships, etc, is the Symbolic Systems major, that time and I believe it’s true today, it’s obviously true here at GSB, was just filled with really, really interesting students. And I learned as much from the people around me as I did from my professors, the people in my study groups, the people I went on to do an honor’s thesis, there were five of us in that major that year that did an honor’s thesis, we met every week. And people were doing musical puppets, and could you do Stereovision with cheap web cameras, and they were just doing really interesting things. And so, it was a terrific decision. I will say it was a little bit scary, because at the same time, people are like what is Symbolic Systems. And still to this day, I have to tell everyone what a Symbolic Systems is, why does it make sense?
My father really wanted to know, paying the bills for Stanford, like, what is Symbolic Systems, and what will you use it for? But, it was an amazing major that really let me experience the range of Stanford, continue to go after my passions, which really sort of center a lot more around artificial intelligence. And it also set up really amazing set of opportunities post Stanford.
INTERVIEWER: That’s great, so one of those opportunities included joining a 20 person startup, which turned out to be the right choice. But at the time, what was that decision like, turning down offers to teach at Carnegie Mellon or to go work for McKinsey?
MARISSA MAYER: Yeah, well so at the time Google was just eight people. It was the spring of 1999. It’s funny, because I actually spent the ‘97, ‘98 school year living in Schwab. And I wasn’t a business school student, but they had about 20 other students who lived in the dorms for balance, so I was one of the balance people in Schwab. And it was the first year it was open and I would go down every night and work out on the treadmill, and there were all these GSB students who were very curious about who is this person who’s not in the GSB who’s on the treadmill every night? And they would come, and then when they would find out I was computer science, they’d be like I’ve got a friend with a startup or I’ve got a startup, I mean, so I would literally go down to the Schwab treadmill and get job offers on the way,
So, that was kind of the process and it was just that time, the Internet was very heady and so it was very easy to pick up offers. In the end I picked up about 14 offers and I had to sort of sort and shift through them all, shift and sort through them all. And, there were a lot of different things that weighed on me at the time. And, it was easy for me to pick the best offer of each type, right? I knew if I was going to do consulting, I was most interested in McKinsey.
If I was going to do a big company, I was most interested in Oracle. I’ve done a lot of lecturing here at Stanford and I had an offer to go to Carnegie Mellon and lecture in their Computer Science program. And so, if I did that I would go there. If I did a startup, it was probably going to be Google. But I found it very difficult to integrate across the different disciplines because the job offers were so different.
So, I went and I thought a lot about it, I procrastinated a lot and I told myself I had to make a decision on May 1st. And, I have a friend who now works at Yahoo with me but was a friend of mine from undergrad and did a joint JD MBA here at Stanford. A good friend of mine named Andre Veneer. One of my longest friends. And Andre is amazing right? He was like the econ poly sci like 4.3 grade point average, can analyze anything Crazy, was working at McKinsey at the time and I said okay, Andre I just need somebody who can help me really synthesize across all these different types of jobs and analyze it. And so we sat down and we had this big matrix where we had location, salary, job trajectory, happiness factor and like, I then remember there are even things where we were like look, we can’t get these with the street values, we need curves so we were like, plotting curves and these things like and then we were like some of these might even need a third dimension and we were going crazy plotting all of this. And we got really into the analysis of the problem, and at about midnight, I just got really overwhelmed and sort of sat back and just got very emotional.
And Andre just didn’t really notice because he was deeply involved in graphing. And also he turned to me, and he was like, what are you so upset about? And I was like I just don’t know, I told myself I’d make a job sitting around I just don’t know. There’s still 14 choices on the table, I just can’t figure it out. And got really upset and overwhelmed. And Andre, I think not really kind of quite where my head was at. He said, Marissa, this has been really fun for me. My daughter’s like, really? because it’s not really fun for me. And I found it very stressful and he was like look, it’s been fun for me. You know I love graphing and analyzing things. And he’s like I think I now understand this problem as well as you do. And he like, I have to tell you, I think you’re approaching it all wrong. He’s like, because I’m watching you, and you are sitting here looking at these and you’re looking for the right choice. That’s interesting that you said in your question the right choice.
And he’s like you’re sitting here and you’re looking for the right choice and he’s like, you think there’s one right choice and 13 wrong choices, I guess I understand as well as you do and that’s just not what I see here at all. He’s like I see 14 very good choices and then there’s the one that you’re going to pick and commit to and may create and feel good about and he’s like and it’s not going to be a matter of right versus wrong. It’s just like it’s all good. And then there’s the one that’s great and you commit to. And people have asked me what’s the best piece of advice I’ve ever gotten? And it’s easily, it was that moment from Andre.
And that, because he’s like, look, a lot of times, smart people when they get really committed to a problem, start to analyze it as if there’s only one great option and all the others are not. And that’s just not how life works and it’s important to realize when you get really overwhelmed in those kinds of choices to think about it. To really think about it that way. And so look, go to bed, sleep on it, and whatever you think of first thing in the morning that’s what you should do. And he’s like, there’s going to be a ton of reasons you can articulate why you’re picking that, there’s going to be some reasons that you can’t articulate why you’re picking that and follow your gut because you really have analyzed and understood it.
So I went to bed, woke up in the morning and I wanted to work at Google. I wanted to work at Google because I felt like the smartest people were there back to Tom Mosso’s comment about always work and surround yourself with interesting and smart people. I wanted to work at Google because I felt really unprepared to do it, like the name itself could be a punch line. I could imagine future family reunions like when Marissa graduated from Stanford she went to this company called, get this, Google. She majored in symbolic systems and then she went to Google, and It was very high risk, but I thought, well, look, if there’s ever a time when I’m going to take that kind of risk, it was then, it was not — now Professor Roberts was a long-time mentor of mine in the computer science world. And he said look, this is a great moment to go to and participate in an entrepreneurial culture, in the startup culture. He’s like no one’s going to fault you, you graduated with a computer science degree in 1999, for going to a startup and taking a risk.
He’s like you can always pursue some of these other options later. But that was I just think very much the right choice. For me it was about the smartest people being there and doing something I didn’t feel ready to do. When I thought about how to make the choice, those were, I had all the different things in the matrix, but ultimately, I thought about some of the best choices I had made, and almost all the best choices I had made: Choosing to come to Stanford, changing my major, different internships I’d gone to: they were all very different types of decisions, but the two things where I always looked for the smartest people I could find, and I always did something I felt a little unprepared to do.
INTERVIEWER: Absolutely. So now it’s come full circle because your former mentor at Google, Eric Schmidt teaches a course here at GSB and I had the privilege of speaking to him this morning about you and he had to say about the associate particle energy program that you started at Google, that it was quote “influential in changing the industry forever. It produced all of our best leaders and many leaders at startups around us”. So given that, what is it that you are most proud of from your time at Google?
MARISSA MAYER: I mean I’m very proud of the associate product management program. I did run it for ten years. We hired on average about 20 people a year, sometimes larger classes, so about 250, I call them my kids because they are my kids. Like I go to their weddings, I buy baby presents and presents for their kids. It’s been amazing to watch them all grow up, and they have populated the leadership positions, and basically Airbnb, Dropbox, Uber, Facebook, Twitter, have all taken leaders on that program, including a lot of the leaders today at Google coming through that. So I’m very proud of that, but I think it’s hard to beat the feeling that we created a technology and a product and a business that changed the world.
When you look at Google, and it was such a privilege and an honor to be part of a team and play a role in that. I still remember I started at Google in June, and that December, the startup lifestyle, you don’t get a lot of time off. And I managed that December to get away, and go to Switzerland, and I walked into a cyber-café. They still had those then. And there was somebody using Google on the screen. The same way I’d remember sometimes when I was backpacking around Europe after I graduated from undergraduate, I saw a Stanford sweatshirt on the streets of, I think it was Florence. And you see so many of them in your everyday life here at Stanford that you didn’t even think about it. I was like wait, that’s a Stanford sweatshirt, what’s it doing here in Florence? It must be a Stanford student.
Same thing, like I had gotten so used to seeing the Google homepage and the Google results page, I didn’t even think about it. I remember walking in to that cyber cafe, seeing it, and then all of a sudden being like wait like I’m in Switzerland. They’re using Google in Switzerland. There’s this little project that there’s like 20 of us working on on the other side of the world and it’s made its way all the way here and there’s somebody using it. And it really showed me in that moment how fast the Internet allows technology to move and how quickly you can deploy something and really get it to scale and to a global impact which is when you think about what the internet has done, and what type of impact it’s enabled, it’s really amazing.
But that feeling I had, that December, seeing that search screen on that cyber cafe in Switzerland, I still have today I still am very proud of the impact that Google has had overall, and I think at both Google and Yahoo, I had to write a post this past summer when we sold Yahoo to Verizon about the company and there’s so many things that make Yahoo amazing, there’s so many things that make Google amazing. But for me, it’s just a real privilege to work at a company that’s changed the world. And you can make that argument for both Google and Yahoo very easily and that’s really what I’m most proud of .
INTERVIEWER: Okay. You’ve mentioned earlier that part of the reason that you knew that Google is the right decision that you made, that you decided to make right, is that you didn’t feel prepared. So, stepping into Yahoo as the fourth CEO in 12 months, turning the company around from a media business into a products company, did you feel prepared for that role?
MARISSA MAYER: No. And I think that’s probably one of the things that attracted me. Attracted me to it. But I think the other element of it, is while I’ve always respected, I’ve known about Yahoo, I knew about Yahoo back when it was still Dave and Jerry’s guide to the worldwide web. And Jerry Yang used to keep notes about what the new cool site for the week was going to be in his CS directory. So we were always trying to hack his account and hope that he had left the permissions as world readable and we would all get a little insight into the new websites that were going to get added to the new Yahoo directory that week. And so I’d known about Yahoo very early on.
And obviously, at Google, we really, really looked up to Yahoo, ran a Yahoo account in the summer of 2000. It was a huge step forward for the company, it’s something we had worked at, on, and towards the entire time I had worked there. So we’d worked on it for more than a year when it finally came together. And people love Yahoo and I think that when I look at the service and the role this played in the industry, I think a lot about the products and the services and things we all create as art because they really are. And a couple of years ago, I met a friend in the city who has a little gallery as like a side business. I said, well, how do you decide what artists to put in the gallery? And he said, well I like local artists, because I like to support local people. And he’s like, but I also like art from people who are nice. And he’s like, because life is too short to work with people who aren’t nice. And he’s like also with an artist you can feel if they’re not nice in the art.
And I thought that was really interesting because you feel like when you’re in art museum and you look at piece of artwork, you can feel when the people who are kind of tormented or they’re angry, you can feel it in their artwork. And I thought was actually really insightful, and if you think about it, and women in particular relate to this. You can tell when the designer of your clothing likes women, or not. I am pretty good at telling about my shoes, other things, you can feel that. And I really think that, like and Yahoo, and all those years, one I really respected, what they created and what they built. But you could also tell that the people at Yahoo were nice, and were fun and their hearts were in the right place. Even though there were a lot times when the leadership and the board and all those different parts of the company had their challenges. You could tell that when you use the service, the people there really took a lot of inspiration and joy out of the work that they did. And my hope was going to Yahoo, that that layer of the company was still there and it very much was.
INTERVIEWER: That’s great. So building on that point of the talent within the company, you were highly acquisitive in the earlier years of your time at Yahoo. Some acquisitions were for technology, others were acqui-hires. Do you think that that was enough to transform the company’s core mission from being media oriented, into a products company at the leading edge of mobile?
MARISSA MAYER: Well, I’m proud of the different things that we did. And I think that there’s a lot of different elements to what is unfolded at Yahoo over the past few years. But the one thing is we had about a $5 billion base of revenue that was declining about 10% per year. And when I had got there at Yahoo, one of the things was I like to work hard, and I’m a workaholic, and I like to work on really hard problems. When I got there, we sort of looked at the 10 to 12 different lines of business. And every single one of them was in decline. And when I asked the current leaders for the company how are we going to get any of those growing, nobody had any ideas. The answer was they’re going to decline, they’re going to decline, for the foreseeable future. They’re going to decline based on industry trends like, they’re declining.
That’s a pretty harrowing diagnosis when you’re the new CEO coming into a turnaround. It’s like, wait, I’ve got to get revenue growing, and we’ve got ten business lines that are all decaying, and we’re losing about half a billion dollars a year of top line. And no one has any idea how to turn it around. And so, when you’re a turnaround CEO, you’ve got to make a decision. Can you turn around the existing lines of business and get them growing again? Or do you have to invent new lines of business? And so, it became very clear, within a matter of weeks of arriving, we need to create new lines of business. And so for us, that really became about mobile, not only just products, but mobile.
And the issue was that Yahoo, when I arrived, had depending on how you counted it between 30 and 60 mobile engineers in a company of 14,000. So basically at about $11 million in mobile revenue in 2011 makes it easy to remember. So you’re like wait, $11 million of revenue inside of $5 billion 30 people inside of 14,000. And I just told the whole board we’re going to turn the company around by betting on mobile. And so we said okay, we really need to make this move fast. And the good news is, mobile was taking over the world, and there was a real technology, companies can reinvent themselves in waves.
When you look at IBM rode the wave to services, Amazon rode the wave to Cloud, they didn’t even really need to turn themselves around. But these kinds of waves can really lift companies. I said look, I think the wave that we need to catch is mobile, and we’re late catching that wave. But we need to catch it. So we went about doing different types of acquisitions. I always thought about acquisitions in three different buckets. Small, medium, large, and the small, medium, and large each had a different purpose. We bought a lot of small companies for the talent, getting teams in the door and getting them in the door quickly enough because we needed to move fast and just start shipping mobile products. Getting the mobile apps out there, start growing our user base, which at the time was tens of millions of users, on mobile today is 650 million. Grow that mobile revenue from $11 million to, last year it was $1.5 billion. So if we grew $1.5 billion of revenue in four years. And now it looks easy, and looks like it was the right bet. And the strategy looks like it worked.
But at the time, there was a lot of debate. Should we do HTML5 or should we do mobile apps? Does Blackberry matter versus iOS and Android? To credit to the team, we made a lot of those decisions, those strategic decisions right in the moment when we got there. Issues about revenue remained flat, because we also had this decline that we were trying to fill in the gap. So even all that growth just basically offset the revenue that was otherwise leaving the company.
But we did small acquisitions for teams. We did medium acquisitions for technology and teams basically. For example, like a good, I call them building blocks. We bought a company called Zombie that was really good at organizing contacts and analyzing your email. And we bought that to become a new foundational block for Yahoo Mail, which is our biggest product.
And then we also took some big strategic bets, like Tumblr and BrightRoll, because I really feel that if you look at technology companies, they reinvent themselves through acquisitions. Sometimes a new product idea comes from within, like Amazon Web Services. A lot of times if you look at Google, how transformational Android and YouTube were for them. Facebook, how transformational Instagram and Whatsapp are. You’ve gotta make some big bets and those can really help reinvent.
And so, I felt that we needed to do everything that we could given some of the size of the task to both work to invent new business lines inside. But also try and inject new talent and new strategic ideas that could help without reinvention.
INTERVIEWER: Despite the fact that that strategy seems to have played out fairly well. You remain as CEO, as a company, you remain under a lot of public scrutiny. That’s perhaps never been the case more so than today, given that privacy concerns and security. So given that, as a leader, how do you rise above the criticism and as a person, how do you not take that heart?
MARISSA MAYER: A couple of things, I just don’t read it, and that might sound — that might sound tone deaf. But I feel like if you read it, it changes who you are and how you think about things. If something’s, if one of your decisions gets reinforced as being super, super smart, but it’s actually wrong, and you read that this was the smartest decision ever, reading that’s going to make you less likely to abandon it or change course. If you made the best decision ever and you read that no, it’s probably wrong, it’s going to make you more likely to abandon it. And the truth is, the press is the press. There are some times when they’re smart, and there are some times when they’re right. But they don’t have half of the information, even close to half of the information that you have being in the company, in terms of what’s likely to play out and what’s not.
And so to make decisions or allow your decision-making to be influenced by a third party who has a fraction of the information that you have, just overall isn’t a great strategy to me. That said, I try not to be deaf to it, right. I’ve got a PR team that will summarize some of the bigger issues and points that are being made. I also have a husband. If I’m worried enough about something, I’ll ask him like, hey I am on Twitter, I read headlines I tend not to click on them, but I’ll be like, I’m seeing this headline a lot. What’s going on with that? I do read other things. I just don’t tend to read things about Yahoo or myself. I try and have those, because I also think that if you’re going to get criticism, it always sounds better coming from someone who loves you. Or someone that you work with and have a relationship with.
I remember there was, less of a scholar and pundit. But I remember I saw an interview with Bradley Cooper, the actor, on the Late Night talk show once. And he said, do you know what I’ve discovered? I discovered if you ever wanted to feel really, really bad about yourself, go read about yourself on the Internet. So it works if you’re an actor, or it works if you’re a business leader. Or, by the way, it works if you’re a high school student. All right, it is a problem.
But the point is, you just can’t let that shape who you are. And so you either have to have guidelines for how you’re going to absorb it, like I do. Or you have to have very thick skin. I tend to think I have a little bit of both. But you have to have a way of cutting through all that noise, to what’s a valid criticism that needs to be acted on and what isn’t?
INTERVIEWER: We have a motto here at the GSB. It’s somewhat tongue-in-cheek, that feedback is a gift, and all feedback is a gift.
MARISSA MAYER: Well, I think, yeah, on the flip side, one of my favorite colleagues at Google is a guy named Alan Eustace. And he rolled this thing in a one-on-one once, where he just said, Marissa, the one reason that criticism hurts is because it’s almost always some percent true. Right, the question is, is it 1% true or is it 75% true? Or is it 100% true, right? But he’s like, that’s why criticism strikes a nerve with people. Because there’s almost always some truth to it.
INTERVIEWER: Absolutely. In light of that, how did you think about absorbing the feedback from Yahoo employees and from those outside of the company about both your own personal decision to return to work shortly after the birth of your three children, as well as your policies regarding employees working remotely, and the family leave policies that you put in place.
MARISSA MAYER: Yeah, I think that that’s probably, I mean, there’s been a lot of things that have been misunderstood about my time at Yahoo. I think that my thoughts on all of those things and how they actually played out are probably the most misunderstood. A couple of things, I have nothing against maternity leave. Everyone should take them, if you can. But I will say the company was just not in the state where I could take a maternity leave in either time that it came time for me to have my children. When I was at Google, Google has glorious maternity leave policies. I had been there for 12 years. I could be, between a combination of time that I had stored up as well as maternity leave, my plan was to take a six-month leave. All right, and Google wasn’t even going to turn off my stock vesting. I was going to have one of the best compensated maternity leaves of all time at Google. And then this opportunity at Yahoo presented itself. I remember thinking wow, if I take this, two months after I get there I’m going to have a baby. I can’t be out for six months. I can’t go and be CEO for two months and then be gone for three, four, six months. And that just also wasn’t fair to Yahoo, given the state that it was in, and how much time was really of the essence to catch up in the mobile race, etc.
And so I thought to myself, I just am going to have to do this in a different way. I’m going to have to push to come back to work sooner. It doesn’t mean that I don’t think it’s reasonable to have maternity leave or would advocate for people giving up their maternity the way that I did. But this was an opportunity. I had an obligation to my employees, to my shareholders. And I also felt that time was incredibly important. At the same time, I also said to myself okay, I’ve gotta come up with a way to make sure that I can also be the best mother that I can be, right.
And so what we basically came up with is I was out for eight to ten business days, and I then was back in the office. But, and a lot has been made of it. It has been called a nursery, it’s actually a small closet space off my office. But I would bring my son in to the office with me. So we joked that the first day he came to the office he had this little Ralph Lauren navy and white little suit thing. It was more comfy, it was kind of knit. But it was like he had his office wear, he was like the business baby. And so he came in and he was there in the office with me. And I was there doing the job, being in meetings. And every four or five hours I would go in, see him, do a conference call. It turns out kids, when they’re learning to talk, they just need to hear a lot of language. And so I would just be on speaker phone. So my son understands revenue and EBITDA, and everything really well. And so that’s sort of how we worked it. And it wasn’t ideal, but I had a lot of time with him.
I think I had a lot more time with him than most people recognize. And I almost ended up doing my maternity leave inverted. Right, some people are home for their maternity leave, and calling into work. I happened to be at work with my son there, but it ultimately worked. It gave me the time that I needed to be CEO, and also the time that I needed with him.
And then when we went to revise our family leave policies, because Yahoo previously didn’t have very generous family leave policies. We said, look, I really believe in taking it from the child’s viewpoint. And I said, look, because there’s so many different ways to have children now. There’s biological mothers, there’s adoption, there’s the atraditional families I said, okay, flip it around from the child’s perspective. Any child of a Yahoo should have, let’s call it at least two months at home with their Yahoo parent. Be it mom, be it dad, etc. And then biological moms of course, also gets state afforded leave. And so what we do now is any parent, any new parent gets eight weeks in the first year of the child’s life. And biological mothers can get up to 16 weeks, so basically four months of time off.
But that was something that was overall important to me. Because that time, whether you’re in my case where I was spending it in the office or you’re spending it at home with your child, is incredibly important. And for the work from home, I may be eventually, I’m just always the poster child for being anti-work from home. I actually have nothing against work from home. My brother works from home, lots of people work from home. And I think it’s a perfectly valid way to do things, but one of the things that I experienced when I first got to Yahoo is, the company had been through so much turbulence, and energy was low.
And one of the challenges I had was, I had to re-energize the campus. And it was just really hard, because it was us and people who had dedicated setups, where they were working from home 100% of the time, but it was the person who said, you know what it’s raining really hard today, I think I’m going to work from home on Wednesday. And then we’d have high performing Yahoos, coming and talking to me and saying, hey you’re here, we’re building all this stuff, we’re doing all this stuff, and it’s really frustrating that every now and then, I got this person on my team who just doesn’t show up for work, and tells they’re working from home but it doesn’t really feel like they’re working from home. Right, because I know, I mean to me, when you got a dedicated setup, you’re probably really productive. But I know, if I didn’t have a dedicated setup at home, I’m just sitting there at the kitchen counter, or on the couch doing email I’m productive, but I’m not as productive as I am when I’m in the office, and meeting with people and interacting with people.
And so we said look, work from home is fine. This is not statement from, as it was ultimately misconstrued in the media, this is not a statement about whether or not work from home is good or bad. But this is Yahoo’s moment. We’re an iconic company. We’re trying to return it to greatness. We need all hands on deck. And so the statement that we ultimately released said look, this is not even a permanent policy for the company. It’s just that, for right now, for us the right thing is, to have everybody who isn’t formally working from home, because we do have about 100 people in the company who do formally work from home, you should be here in the office, because this is our moment, this is our time, and we need to seize it. And so, that’s really what that was about.
And ironically, it was unfortunately characterized, as kind of coming raining down on working moms, or conflated with my maternity leave. In truth, about 85% of the people affected by that change were men. And in total, there was about a hundred people a day who work from home, and there were about a hundred people or so, where their status changed, and that only 15 of them were women. And you never know that from the thousands of articles that were written.
INTERVIEWER: Right. We were talking behind stage about your husband, who is a venture-capitalist in the area. You’re from Wisconsin. In thinking about raising a family in Silicon Valley, and in the spot light, what concerns might you have for, making sure that your children have the same sort of childhood that you had?
MARISSA MAYER: Yeah. So, I have three children I’ve got a four year old boy, and identical twin girls who are one. And no, they’re amazing. I would say, I wasn’t sure, I know this sounds funny, but I wasn’t sure about motherhood. My husband was very gung ho, we’re having kids. And I was like, okay. And I have to say, it is really just amazing overall. I knew I loved kids, but to me as I said, I had my APMs, I love other people’s kids, do I need to have some of my own? I mean it’s really amazing. I would encourage it for absolutely everyone, because it just gives you so much perspective. And you just realize that some of the biggest impacts you can have in the world, is raising those kids to be, productive, creative, amazing people.
But to me, really I think it’s the timing and place is different. That said, the values you provide your children are the same, that perspective, to me ultimately remains the same. And there’s certainly challenges but, I think that for Macallister who’s a little bit older, I want him to have an overstimulated childhood. I want him to be exposed to everything: Art, science, I mean Palo Alto and the Bay Area is just so amazing. You’ve got retired Stanford professors teaching science classes, at the science museum in downtown Palo Alto, which is unheard of. There’s bilingual Mandarin story time around the block from our house. Right, I mean it’s really, really an amazing gift to be able to raise kids here, and be able to expose them to so much.
And so, helping them get expose to that, but also having them realize that the whole world isn’t like that. And my husband’s from Denver, I’m from Wisconsin, and you go home and see the way different parts of the country work. And feeling that is important, and even more so different places in the world. So we tend to travel a lot, and we want to make sure that we expose our kids to a lot of different things. But, interestingly I had a Stanford professor, Terry Winograd, who raised two absolutely terrific daughters. And I really admired the way that he raised his kids. And, I’m friends with his wife, and I asked her one time, I said your girls are so terrific. What did you do? And she said one, travel is really important. Them understanding, Silicon Valley’s context in the world, and how lots of different people live and work is really important. But she also said the other thing is, a lot of people worry about all the success of Silicon Valley and all that, and the impact it will have, and I think that weighs on everybody.
But, she also said the thing you have to watch out for, because of the proximity to Stanford, is that you really need to make sure that they understand that, it’s an issue of academic and intellectual self-esteem. But everybody here is so smart. And when they’re going to the Palo Alto public schools, right? They’re going with the children of brilliant engineers, and brilliant professors, and Stanford students. And that, ultimately, yeah, there are some things, they don’t necessarily understand how smart, how talented they are, because of the context in which they grew up. So making sure that your kids are really confident, that they got good self-esteem, that they know what they’re good at, and that you’re really fostering is something that’s really important.
INTERVIEWER: Absolutely. And you feel that’s possible, even within the context of them being in the spotlight?
MARISSA MAYER: Yeah, I mean, I think that my view is, I’m in the spotlight because of my role. They aren’t, right? And I’m very protective of their routines, their days. You can scrutinize me. Through my roles, I’m out there that way. But that’s not really fair to them, and I think that overall there hasn’t been a big spotlight on them. I think that their names are known, but we’re pretty careful with what they look like. Their identities, where they go, all that type of thing.
INTERVIEWER: Absolutely. So, we have time for one more question for me, and then we’ll open up to the audience. But, fast forward a few months from now, the Verizon acquisition closes. What do you wake up, excited to do next? Is it at Yahoo? Is it outside of Yahoo, within the tech community?
MARISSA MAYER: I mean, I think that right now it’s too early to say. I mean we were working, overall in closing the Verizon transaction. And that’s the most important thing that I’m working on, right now. But, given that reflection that I had last summer of what am I most proud of at Google? And what am I most proud of at Yahoo? It’s really that it’s a rare privilege, to work a company that changes the world. Because there’s lots of great companies out there, but there’s a rare few that really change the world, and change paradigms. And I’m excited to work on that. Whether that’s at Verizon, or at Yahoo, or somewhere else, but it’s addictive. That ability to, really try and help change the world, make an impact on the world for the better.
And the fact that, we now have so many tools that are available to our reach, to really influence those kinds of outcomes, is pretty amazing and is an opportunity not to be lost.
INTERVIEWER: I think I speak for everyone in the audience when I say that, I hope your future plans include, teaching back here at Stanford.
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