Unsurprising Departures At Yahoo

In the “not surprising” department, two executives largely associated with the media side of Yahoo have left. Ross Levinsohn and Marc Grabowski have both left the company. Neither comes as much of a shock. Based on the first couple of weeks of Marissa Mayer’s tenure, Yahoo appears to be set to focus on products, and not maintain the illusion they are a “media company”. If Yahoo goes the direction it seems to be going, these two executive’s presence wasn’t really key to the operation.

Ms. Mayer has been starting to work on the culture at Yahoo, instituting changes in the work environment that are also found at Google. Free food, new workspaces and a Friday afternoon “All hands” meeting mirror what Google has done for years. She has also started to make it clear that the company will refocus on its core products like e-mail and Flickr. For all the talk about Yahoo being a “media company”, they really weren’t. Media companies actually create media and content. What Yahoo did was aggregate and classify other content. It isn’t that what Yahoo does isn’t useful. It is. But hosting and displaying media doesn’t make you a media company.

Perhaps my only concern with the loss of Grabowski is that Yahoo does lose some talent when it comes to the advertising side of the business. I’m sure Mayer is aware of the role that ads play in Google’s success (given that it represents the lion’s share of their revenue). Focusing on the product and technology side of Yahoo is good, but it isn’t what will bring in the money directly. It makes the advertising side of the business possible, but ads still play a significant part of Yahoo’s overall picture.

I guess my only other issue might be the somewhat unimaginative steps taken by Mayer so far. It’s only been a couple of weeks, so there is no cause for alarm here. But I’m hoping to see Mayer put her own unique stamp on Yahoo in some way, and not just turn into into Google Lite, or Google version 2.0. Mimicking elements of Google isn’t a big deal, because Google isn’t the only company to do some of these things. Having a work environment that gives you every reason to stick with the company, and stay at the office and work, isn’t unusual.

What happens next might be more telling, and I’m hoping that some of the next steps are more about being distinctive rather than being duplicative. Yahoo isn’t Google. They don’t have the same history, and like all companies, each has differences in their core culture and core values. Yes, Yahoo needs to be remade. Yes, some of what Yahoo does needs to be altered or abandoned. But the company can’t forget its history, and it needs to retain something to make it a unique entity. Copying Google’s outward elements won’t make Yahoo into another Google. That’s a Cargo Cult mentality. Imitation is useful, to a point. But ultimately, there needs to be substance behind the surface. There needs to be innovation, that can mean the culture, not just the products and services.