Views & Opinions

A New Generation of Digital-Native CEOs

Not 24 hours ago, Yahoo announced a surprise new CEO—the 37-year-old Marissa Mayer, Google employee No. 20 who has lead many of Google’s more ambitious and successful ventures. What strikes me as a bold move, considering that Yahoo has been through four CEOs in less than four years, is Yahoo’s risk-taking venture on a digital-native CEO. Many of us in this industry have been wondering for a very long time what this transition would mean to corporate America.

Now, grant you, Yahoo is no General Motors. Yahoo is quite obviously a digital-native company. It’s older than Google. But the board of directors is taking a gamble—and really a litmus test—to see how digital visionaries can translate their ideas into marketable ambitions.

Mayer is 37 years old, making her, most likely, one of the elder statespersons at Google. The Internet technology business has always been a young industry. It will be fascinating to watch her management style, her embedded view of the intersection between lifestyle and technology, and the constant pressure on Yahoo to figure out how to turn great content and viewership into commerce.

In my world as a digital guide to companies, I see the constant struggle between the new ways of technology and traditional ways of commerce. As I’ve written about in this column and my blog for the past 10 years, we have been waiting to see how digital-native C-level executives will catapult the Internet into maturity. We must remind ourselves that for the past 20 years the Internet has not frequently been led, but rather reacted to, in its impact on individual businesses. Most companies have been on their heels for two decades now.

Viewing Mayer’s tenure as CEO of Yahoo will not only be an interesting study in a new generation of leadership, but also in how digital-natives lead differently than their predecessors.

I wish her the best.