Yahoo’s legacy for me
Yesterday was a very emotional day for me… Yesterday was the last FYI (our weekly Yahoo-wide meeting). Something that Marissa started after she arrived at Yahoo in July 2012.
I have never shed tears at my place of work before. So, I wondered why I was all choked up and could not get words out.
My career consists of just two companies in the United States. Roughly equal in time across both, at the first being 11 years, and now at Yahoo more than 9 years.
I remember the last months of my previous (1st) employment in the US. I could not wait to get out. I had a lot of connections in the company, and they gave me a warm goodbye. However, there was no affinity, no camaraderie, we were just employees. We never built a cult(ure).
Then I joined Yahoo in 2008. I was discouraged by many. I had my own doubts, as I was moving from the East coast across to the West. I was changing companies after a long stint. Yahoo stock was not doing well back then. To add to the fun, the day I joined, Microsoft bid $31/share to buy Yahoo. I thought – “big change, new company, in turmoil, simple website, solved technical problems” – lets give it a year or two and move on.
I have been at Yahoo now for more than 9 years. And, I will continue as part of “Oath”. How did a year or two become almost ten? Why, not just me, but thousands of employees around the world feel that great affinity to this company, this brand? Why do ex-employees say “I bleed purple” when they refer to Yahoo? Why do alumni groups meet up regularly and share experiences?
It is all about the PEOPLE, CULTURE and OPPORTUNITY.
For me, the best part has been the opportunity to meet and work with these leaders at Yahoo who impacted my life (professionally and otherwise). You will see a common theme of traits that made them special.
a) Belief in employees
b) Humility and down-to-earth demeanor
c) Strong sense of culture
d) Serve the employees, users and shareholders
Chuck was my first manager at Yahoo. I had never worked for Chuck before, and when I moved to California, I was pleasantly surprised. He was calm, cool and collected (or seemed to be) all the time. Usually the smartest guy in the room, and would rarely try to prove it.
What did I learn from Chuck and why? He was ready to take a bet on me to run a team and lead execution of a tough project, just after a couple of months of being an architect in his group. He was not fainthearted to make hard decisions. And, even when he gave negative feedback to a team or individual, it came across as being a great coach/partner.
Chuck also was a deeply technical manager. He understood technology and technical details. And never let go of being technically differentiated in what we proposed or built.
2. David Filo
Filo is one of the finest human beings you can find. He is humble. Cares about the employees, users and shareholders of the company. He is the soul of Yahoo.
What did I learn from Filo? Be humble, be grounded. It is not how much you are worth in terms of money or material wealth. It is more important on how you impact lives. He has created something that has given pleasure to thousands of employees and millions of users for 22 years, and more to come.
Initially Filo seemed very reserved, serious and non-people person to me. I have been accused of the same. But over the years, on many occasions, he would reach out to me (during periods of change), check on me, and even find out what my thinking was on some professional decision I had made. And, as I spoke to people in the company, others gave me examples of the same.
A common moniker that Filo is called by is “Cheap” Yahoo (a take on “Chief Yahoo”). Filo is known for his stinginess about capital expenditures. However, my observation was that he was not being cheap, but rather raising the bar. Every time he would ask us to do more experiments or change the estimate, he was actually pushing us to raise the bar on technology and capabilities in order to increase shareholder value.
If you want to give an example to your kids about how to lead ones life, he would be my example. Humble, Human, Caring, Passionate…
3. Jay Rossiter
I have been in Jay’s chain of management for the longest in my career. Either directly or through a layer. And, so have known Jay as my org leader for many years now.
What struck me about Jay, was that he is always ready to invest in people. He believed in me, and my potential, and invested in growing me and my career.
When he saw the gaps, he was not hesitant to point them out. During one promotion cycle early on, he pulled my name out from the list (which I still insist was a mistake.) I was upset, and felt that I was ready and deserved. I could have resigned, changed jobs, moved to a different organization. His conviction in doing the right thing for me, his organization, and the company allowed him to make the hard call.
I stayed on, because I had appreciation of his approach and warmth. I knew he had everyone’s best interests in mind. And, in fact, he went one step further to get an executive coach to help me grow in those gaps. He has been one true mentor for me in my career.
And, I have seen Jay do this investment to many folks in the company throughout his career.
I can go on about how Jay is technical, committed, with high integrity. The list would be too long and will show all the positives of a great organizational leader. Above all, like Chuck, like Filo, Jay is a super humble person.
If there is one person that I have seen energize and change the culture of a company. And do it in just a couple of years. It is Marissa Mayer. I remember the first company-wide strategy presentation, and I remember thinking “wow”…. now finally we have a CEO who understands the consumer internet, our users, and how to build great products that can compete for the limited time users are willing to spend online.
Marissa had bold ambitious goals for the resurgence of Yahoo. And, she brought cultural changes in Yahoo around that mission. Free food, workspace changes, smart phone smart fun, dogwood of our apps, WFH, FYI, PB&J. There are countless changes both small and big. The goal was to unite the company, inspire all the employees, and make us part of that mission.
So the main impact that Marissa had on me is, it’s “all about culture”. She knew and remembered every employee she interacted with. Sometimes spent hours talking to employees who queued up in lines. Even yesterday.
Over the last few years I got many questions from friends and family – “How is Yahoo doing under Marissa”, “How is Marissa as a CEO”, “Do you know Marissa?”. I always skirted and avoided the answer being careful about not revealing internal details that I would be privy to.
I personally loved every minute of the 5 years of her tenure, the faith she had in me and many of my colleagues to execute and deliver on the mission. And, she worked tirelessly for the employees, users and shareholders. So, to me the following words embody what Marissa did:
“Success is the peace of mind which is a direct result of self satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to become the best you are capable” – John Wooden
We all gave it our f**king best!!
As a new journey begins for Yahoo, so does one for me. I am hoping that I can carry forward some of the learning from these leaders, and learn from new ones at Oath.