Why Marissa Mayer and Tim Armstrong Won’t Be Together for Long
Yahoo’s CEO says she plans to stay following sale to Verizon, but a look at history and her incentives for leaving makes it likely her tenure will be short.
Yahoo confirmed Monday that the company would sell its core business to Verizon for $4.8 billion, ending a drama that began almost exactly four years ago, when Marissa Mayer took over as CEO, and answering a question that the company was still evading as recently as its last earnings call. The next question: What happens to Mayer now?
Mayer told employees in a note posted to Tumblr, "For me personally, I'm planning to stay." But a look at the financial incentive for her to leave and her history with at least one executive at Verizon would seem to indicate a different direction.
It seems unlikely Mayer will stick around for long, and here's why.
She has a big paycheck waiting for her if she goes.
Mayer's severance package could amount to as much as $56.8 million if she is terminated in her role as part of the a change in leadership at the company, according to media reports. The Washington Post calculates that this could bring her total compensation for her time with the company to $219 million. Mayer's statement that she's staying put "falls into the category of something she has to say, for now," as Michael Hiltzik points out in the Los Angeles Times. Most executives in her position would prefer to take a settlement and walk versus becoming an employee again.
Mayer has a history of rivalry with AOL CEO Tim Armstrong.
Mayer's relationship with the CEO of AOL, Yahoo's sometime rival, has been sticky since before Verizon acquired AOL in 2015 for $4.4 billion.
Before that purchase, AOL and Yahoo had been rumored as merger partners with reporters eagerly speculating in 2014 over why Armstrong and Mayer had met privately for drinks during the Sun Valley conference that year. And even before that, the pair reportedly butted heads as early employees of Google.
At Google, it was widely believed that Mayer, the wunderkind Stanford graduate, looked down on Armstrong at Google for having a less prestigious degree and lacking an engineering background, according to a Vanity Fair story about the pair's relationship.
Mayer has also reportedly bristled at comparisons between Yahoo and AOL, though someone once pointed out to Vanity Fair that Mayer might have just been talking about digital advertising revenue when she reportedly said, "We are like Google and Facebook! We are not AOL!"
Mayer never wanted to sell, anyway.
Sources told Vanity Fair that back in July of 2015, Mayer "had not yet publicly come to terms with Yahoo's need to sell its core business." As late as December, Recode editor and Yahoo trainwreck aficionado Kara Swisher told Business Insider, "Marissa Mayer is a very aggressive and competitive person. Do you think she wants to sell it? I don't think so."
But now Yahoo has sold, and for a price close to what Verizon bought AOL. What Swisher says today: According to sources, Mayer "would likely go after the deal is officially struck in six to nine months."
Yahoo declined to comment for this post beyond statements already released publicly.