Will Marissa Mayer bring new life to Yahoo as CEO?

Yahoo's hiring of the longtime Google executive is a bet on leadership rather than expertise in its core businesses

Yahoo's appointment of longtime Google executive Marissa Mayer as its new CEO is a bet on a strong, competent leader, though one without experience in the company's core businesses, analysts said on Monday.

Mayer is widely credited with bringing a clean user experience to many of Google's products, where she most recently was head of local, maps, and location services. But her background does not include media or display ads. Yahoo describes itself as a media company, and display advertising is its revenue "bread and butter," according to Rebecca Lieb, an Altimeter Group analyst.

Allen Weiner, an analyst at Garter, said Mayer was not the "safe choice" for Yahoo because her experience lies in products rather than media, which is Yahoo's main focus.

"But she's a great choice in that all constituents -- the board, the public, advertisers, users -- they're all going to be really happy with what she represents in terms of background, experience and presence," Weiner said.

Mayer's first task, Weiner said, should be to persuade interim CEO Ross Levinsohn, whose background is in media, to stay on to share his media expertise despite being passed over for the top spot.

Mayer will also need to hire "strong teams" to handle Yahoo's display ad business, which is not a significant part of what Google does, Lieb said.

Good leaders often need to hire people to round out their strengths, Lieb said. In fact, Mayer is likely to attract more talent to Yahoo than it has been able to muster on its own.

"A lot of people in Silicon Valley would tell their grandmother to work for Marissa Mayer, and very few would tell anyone to work for Yahoo," Lieb said.

Mayer's experience working on products at Google could help her address another of Yahoo's struggles, Lieb said: refocusing its broad range of offerings.

"Yahoo is, right now, the company without an elevator pitch," Lieb said. It's impossible to describe in a few words what Yahoo does, and Mayer may have the right skills to address this.

"Mayer is committed to clear brand messages, exquisite UX (user experience), clarity and simplicity, which Yahoo needs desperately," Lieb said.

Mayer's strong leadership skills also help to give her a fighting chance of turning Yahoo around, analysts said.

"She's bringing fresh eyes and a good brain to the problem," said Roger Kay, the founder of Endpoint Technologies Associates.

"Just because she's not in the ad world doesn't mean she can't go to New York and talk to agency guys. I think she's a quick study," Kay said.

Leading a struggling company is a high-risk undertaking, but one that could pay off well for Mayer, Weiner said.

"If she's able to come in and turn Yahoo around, she will become a legend the likes of Steve Jobs," he said.

Cameron Scott covers search, web services and privacy for The IDG News Service. Follow Cameron on Twitter at CScott_IDG.

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