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Breaking Glass

3 things to learn from the life and career of Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer

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Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo
Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo - ()

Holy cow. I just finished reading the epic unauthorized biography "Business Insider's" Nicholas Carlson wrote on Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer. I feel like I need some water or a protein shake or something, the article is that exhaustive and detailed. But I did come away with a few nuggets of wisdom and enlightenment culled from Mayer's not-always-charmed life that I'd like to share.

First off, hats off to Carlson, who spares no details in rehashing Mayer's awe-inspiring career at Google, and now at Yahoo. He quotes sources from every stage in Mayer's life, from a boy who had a crush on her in eighth grade to her dorm room study buddies. The article is worth a read, if you have an hour and a half to kill.

Mayer is a fascinating character. She took the helm of Yahoo after 13 years as one of Google's top dogs. When she accepted the job, she was five months pregnant. Her first day at work, she was seven months pregnant. And she took just two weeks of maternity leave when her baby boy was born. Famously, she told attendees at a women in business conference, "The baby's been way easier than everyone made it out to be."

Many women bristled when they heard that comment and shuddered to think of what broader impact her comments would have as so many women struggle to balance work and family. But there is a lot to admire and learn from in Mayer's life story—or least the one broken down bit by bit in Carlson's article.

1. Cozy up to teachers: Not in a creepy "Lolita" sort of way, but Mayer seems to have gained a lot from close relationships with teachers and professors in her past. In fact, one of her professors at Stanford, Eric Roberts, encouraged her to teach at the university (which she reportedly loved) and, eventually, to work with Sergey Brin and Larry Page, the founders of Google.

2. Always aim for varsity: Mayer had 12 different job offers on the table before she even heard from Google. But after speaking with the folks at Google, she realized a job there would surround her with the best and brightest people in the industry. She thought about her options and remembered something she heard once from her piano teacher's daughter. The girl had gone out for volleyball and had two choices: play for the JV squad or ride the bench on varsity. The girl chose varsity because she knew the only way to get better was to practice with the stronger team, even if she never played. "The turning point for me," Mayer said, "was realizing that I would learn more at Google, trying to build a company, regardless of whether we failed or succeeded, than I would at any of the other companies I had offers from."

3. Taking a step back doesn't mean you can't leap forward: Mayer had an incredibly successful run at Google. But toward the end of her tenure, she was demoted. She was taken off Google's search organization, which is the company's top product, and put in charge of Google Maps. She also lost her seat on a council of higher ups at the company. Yet, as Mayer describes it, her new job duties at Google gave her opportunities she never would have had in her old job. She was managing a larger and more diverse group of people and supervised the company's $125 million acquisition of Zagat. And then, in 2012, she was offered the job as CEO of Yahoo.

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