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Marissa Mayer's Big Red Book: A Guide to What the Yahoo CEO Will Do Next

"You don't have the book?" joked one departed staffer to me. "You really need to see the book." I really did -- and so do you.

In the late fall, employees across Yahoo arrived at work to find a message from CEO Marissa Mayer on their desks. Delivered to everyone simultaneously, it was in the form of a book — the “big red book,” in fact, as it would soon be called across the Silicon Valley Internet giant — that she had created to explain Yahoo to, well, Yahoos.

On the opening pages of the thick tome — with a hip design, much font action, a whole lot of bold colors and a vague tone of forced fun — its goal was explicitly stated: “This book is a guide.”

I was happy to finally get my hands on one. “You don’t have the book?” joked one departed staffer to me. “You really need to see the book.”

I really did. And so do you.

Commissioned by Mayer in a project run by her chief of staff Andrew Schulte and produced by Addison Publishing, it cost about $1 million, said sources. Books like this are not uncommon in Silicon Valley, most often made to be given to new employees as part of the onboarding process at hiring.

In this case, Mayer seems to have had a different goal, in what appears to be a splashy analog attempt to boost morale. But, more than anything, it is also an insight into her thinking, displaying a mix of stubborn defiance and aggressive cheeriness strewn with the kind of you-can-do-it bromides you might find at a Tony Robbins seminar.

“Our hope is that it will give everyone a shared sense of the amazing company that we work for and the incredible opportunities within our reach,” read some text. “Let’s do this.”

It also stars Mayer. “We take our work seriously,” read one page, atop a photo of a smiling exec at a computer (which you can see above), “but we don’t take ourselves seriously.”

In another, there is a call for Yahoo to “kick ass again.”

In still another, the book shows a selfie of Mayer on her first day at the company in July of 2012, with a reprint of her confidential memo about her new job.

Such confidence is much needed by Mayer today; she finds herself in a very tough situation as she announces Yahoo’s fourth-quarter earnings. Aside from the actual results, investors are looking for her and CFO Ken Goldman to give some clear statement about the plans for a spinoff of its core assets and also details about cost cuts, largely via layoffs and closures of low-performing units.

Most important of all, though, will be whether there are explicit signals from Mayer about whether the company is open to a sale. On Friday, Yahoo’s board met to discuss this critical issue, as potential suitors circle the company waiting for it to publicly declare itself interested in acquisition discussions.

That has been pushed by activist shareholders like Starboard Value, which has been agitating for a sale of Yahoo’s core assets. If not, it is promising a proxy fight that will mire Yahoo in a yet another protracted public tussle.

While there have been no substantive talks as yet, giant telcos like Verizon and AT&T are waiting for an opening to make possible bids. “No one can be seen in a hostile takeover mode,” said one person close to the situation. “Yahoo has to really show its cards for anything to start.”

That might or might not happen today. According to sources, at the Friday meeting, Mayer laid out a plan for turnaround, appealing for more time from the board to fix Yahoo.

But a number of directors have become convinced that she will not be able to deliver that, especially since she has been trying to do so for several years now with a variety of largely failed efforts at Yahoo.

“They are emotionally supportive of Mayer and her desire to keep at it, but some of the board just wants to get the company sold for as much money as possible,” said one person close to the situation. “They’ve had enough.”

Nonetheless, those directors may face a lot of resistance from Mayer, who is well known for an intense work ethic and an equally strong drive for perfection. Numerous sources close to her said she is determined to solider on; still others said that if there is a decision to sell, she will be the one to manage the process.

Mayer will probably prevail in this, given that directors are loath to directly attack a sitting CEO, especially in the clubby and insular world of Silicon Valley. “To attack Mayer, the most high-profile woman leader in tech, is not for the faint of heart,” said one source. “She has more leverage and determination than you might imagine.”

That’s all reflected in the big red book.

In fact, it stresses what has been her main manifesto for a while — the idea of a virtuous cycle that Mayer has repeated many times at Yahoo.

Reads one page: “Great people build great products. Innovative, forward-leaning products will drive increased traffic and engagement, leading to greater advertiser interest and demand. Ultimately, this translates to revenue.”

And, for Yahoo today, that depends on your definition of “ultimately.”

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