The July news that Verizon was acquiring Yahoo was met with somber (OK, not really that somber) finality. But Zombie Yahoo has continued to generate lots of unwanted attention, with hacking disclosures and accusations of government-compelled spying. All the bad news has even made Verizon, which had already come to terms with Yahoo’s various warts, weirdly evasive about whether it actually plans to complete the acquisition. The End of an Era has morphed into the Ambiguous Not-Dating-But-Definitely-Not-Just-Friends Relationship of an Era.
Monday brought more confusing will-they-won’t-they news about the tie-up. An SEC filing revealed that Marissa Mayer is stepping down from Yahoo’s board and that the company is changing its name to Altaba, which sounds like a way to trick would-be Alibaba investors. Huge news, right? Actually, the name change applies to the investments and assets that Verizon is not acquiring, including stakes in Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba (Alternate Alibaba ... Alt Alibaba … Altaba … it’s all coming together) and Yahoo Japan that are worth way, way more than Yahoo’s core business. Verizon has already said it wants to continue to invest in the Yahoo brand so the name and core services are going to remain intact. In short, everyone’s email address isn’t going to be changed to @altaba.com, so don’t believe any articles that might give you that impression.
As for Mayer herself, the future isn’t as clear. When the Verizon deal was announced back in July, Mayer sent a letter to Yahoo staffers vowing to remain at the company through its transition. “I love Yahoo, and I believe in all of you,” she wrote. “It’s important to me to see Yahoo into its next chapter.”
Unfortunately, it remains a mystery as to whether Verizon-owned Yahoo will love her back. At the time of the acquisition announcement, a Verizon executive said no decision had been made about Mayer’s future at the company. As of Monday, no decision has been made about even acquiring the company. “Pending the data breach investigations, we have no further comment on the Yahoo transaction or related personnel plans at this time,” Yahoo spokesman Bob Varettoni said in an email Monday.
Marissa Mayer’s future at Yahoo is uncertain, but her legacy has already been written. As a high-pedigree hire (Google employee no. 20) and a rare female CEO in a homogeneous industry, Mayer brought renewed attention to Yahoo’s business strategy as well as a heightened level of scrutiny of her obligations as a woman in power. Critics assailed not only Yahoo’s inability to build a media empire or properly manage its acquisitions, but also Mayer’s personal decision to take just two weeks of maternity leave following her pregnancies and her disavowal of the term “feminist.” She and the company she managed largely failed to ascribe to our ready-made tech and social narratives. Yahoo didn’t come roaring back, but it also didn’t fail in a way that was particularly spectacular, deceitful, or a satisfying moral comeuppance. Mayer was an accomplished woman in business, but she wasn’t asking all women to “lean in.” Neither she nor her company seemed eager to embrace being a symbol of anything other than plain fiscal competence.
On that front, unfortunately, she failed. (In her defense, many have tried and failed to save Yahoo for a decade.) Yahoo isn’t quite dead as we watch its reanimated corpse being sold for parts. But one thing seems certain: Mayer’s dream of restoring the company to its former glory has been extinguished.