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The Controversial Case of Marissa Mayer

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What is it with Marissa Mayer?

First there was Doug Bowman, the Google employee who found greener pastures at Twitter. In March of 2009, the former top visual designer at Google made a very public break over the infusion (imposition?) of data on design. Around that time, I started to hear rumblings that designers were no fans of data-obsessed Marissa Mayer. Of course, this didn't completely surprise me. Google has always been known more for data than for design, as this New York Times piece manifests. After all, two engineers founded the company.

Then I read I'm Feeling Lucky: The Confessions of Google Employee Number 59, Douglas Edwards' highly detailed account of early life at Google as a non-techie. Edwards didn't have too many flattering things to say about Mayer either. One suspects that the feeling was mutual.

And then Remote Workgate happened.

Around this time I started wondering, Why is Marissa Mayer a lightning rod for controversy? Over the past year, that feeling has become lodged in my mind. I just can't shake it.

Further cementing my beliefs was the "The Truth About Marissa Mayer: An Unauthorized Biography." The superb 20,000-word exposé on Business Insider didn't exactly paint a flattering picture of the Yahoo! CEO. I started to think about how much I would probably loathe working with her. The term micromanager stuck with me throughout the piece.

And now there's the reportedly toxic relationship between now-ex Yahoo! Chief Operating Officer Henrique de Castro and Mayer. This was no regular departure. Upon taking the reins, Mayer cleaned house, quickly supplanting the senior team she inherited. And here's the rub: de Castro was a key part of that team. Mayer handpicked him and paid a king's ransom to lure him from Google 15 months ago. (Up until today, Mayer was only Yahoo!'s second-highest paid employee.)

No doubt that Mayer has made her fair share of enemies at Yahoo!, but isn't that par for the course? Don't CEOs need to make tough decisions, especially when they're paid boatloads of cash? Read Brad Stone's excellent book The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon. Jeff Bezos is a smart cookie, but he's anything but a saint. For his part, Zuck hasn't always been the most pleasant person on the planet. Neither was Steve Jobs-far from it. Ditto for Larry Page, Sergey Brin, Larry Ellison, Bill Gates, and scores of other prominent tech leaders.

So I ask again, What is it with Marissa Mayer?

Yes, Yahoo!'s stock is up significantly since she took over the beleaguered tech giant, although Alibaba has something to do with that. There seems to be a new enthusiasm among many Yahoo! employees.

But is it just or me, or does it seem that we only hear things about her that are, well, less than flattering? And why is that the case? Is it because of her relatively distinct position? That is, along with Ginni Rometty and Meg Whitman, there just aren't too many prominent women running technology companies today. Is that why we seem to only hear the criticisms?