When she sold Yahoo to Verizon for almost $4.5 billion in June, it seemed like Marissa Mayer had pulled of something of a final magic trick.
In exchange for a company with rotting, overpriced acquisitions, a failing media business, a shattered executive team, furious investors and a significant hacking scandal, Marissa managed to get Verizon to shave a few million from the deal here and there, but kept the overall price high enough to make everyone wonder how the sales price was still so high.
It felt like something of a panicky masterstroke.
Sure, she suffered the ignominy of having $12 million clawed back from her compensation package after the hacking hullabaloo, but even the most snarky Mayer critic had to applaud the way she held Verizon over a barrel and managed to keep the final sales price so high. She was even mentioned more than once as a potential successor to Travis Kalanick at Uber. It also didn't hurt when Verizon folded Yahoo into AOL and created Oath:, a name so dumb that it made everyone forget about Altaba. Over the course of the summer, Marissa floated away on a golden parachute into Silicon Valley Valhalla.
In fact, much of the clawback sting was salved even further last week when her frenemy and quasi-successor Tim Armstrong said this out loud:
"I think Marissa did a really good job overall in a very difficult situation."
No, he really said this. There's video:
He even blamed much of the criticism leveled at Mayer on a societal predisposition to disparage female business leaders.
All in all, Marissa has been out of the direct public spotlight for almost four months, and in that time her reputation has been healing up in direct proportion to how quickly she has been fading from our collective memory.
It made us wonder; perhaps we didn't appreciate her until we watched her walk away?
But then, a statement form Verizon/Oath: hit the wires yesterday afternoon:
Subsequent to Yahoo's acquisition by Verizon, and during integration, the company recently obtained new intelligence and now believes, following an investigation with the assistance of outside forensic experts, that all Yahoo user accounts were affected by the August 2013 theft. While this is not a new security issue, Yahoo is sending email notifications to the additional affected user accounts. The investigation indicates that the user account information that was stolen did not include passwords in clear text, payment card data, or bank account information. The company is continuing to work closely with law enforcement.
So, Marissa managed to get Verizon to hang in on the deal when she said that only a few hundred million Yahoo user accounts had been affected by the hack. And then she agreed to some sticker slashing when Verizon grew really concerned that the number of affected accounts might be higher, only to walk away with millions in severance and get Verizon to publicly praise her leadership a literal week before it learned that in fact EVERY SINGLE YAHOO USER ACCOUNT HAD BEEN HACKED ON HER WATCH?
Marissa Mayer wasn't a noble failure who managed to pull a rabbit out of a hat at the last minute. Nor was she a victim of Silicon Valley's toxic gender dynamic that stripped her of the power and respect she would have received as a male CEO. And it is now crystal clear that she is not someone who will be relegated to the dustbin of American business history.
So who is Marissa Mayer?
Marissa Mayer is a four-dimensional thinker and cutthroat dealmaker that managed to bilk a telecommunications giant for $4.5 billion in exchange for a toxic asset, and then made the CEO (a man she has hated for years) thank her for the privilege. She's not the Joan of Arc of Tech, she's the Keyser Söze of American business. Marissa Mayer just took everyone for the ride of their lives and we didn't even know it until it was all over.
You might say that you don't believe in the Gods of Finance, but you're afraid of them. Well, we believe in the Gods of Finance, and the only thing that scares us is Marissa Mayer.