Friday, March 1, 2013

The Breathtaking Arrogance of the Blogosphere*

Eight months after female journalists collectively gushed over Yahoo!'s announcement that Marissa Mayer would be taking the firm's top job, the long knives have come out over her controversial decision to require all telecommuting workers to start working in the office again. Feminists have soured on her. Clueless bloggers said her decision is wrong and back up their claims with anecdotes, meaningless PC drivel, statistical studies (that are not statistically relevant to Yahoo!). If you only read read the non-financial news over the past week, you'd be given the impression that Marissa Mayer was a terrible CEO and a bad person in general.

Luckily there was at least one person who had a modicum of reason. And it simply boils down to this: she's the boss and what she says goes. If you don't like it, work somewhere else. It takes an extraordinary amount of arrogance to say a CEO is wrong on a policy she crafted for her own company by citing the policies of other companies, who may or may not be in the same boat that Yahoo! is in.

I've already gone on the record stating that I don't think Mayer is going to turn around the ship. And it's not because I think she's not a good chief executive. It's because I think that Yahoo! just isn't in any good position to become a dominant tech company. They've been coasting on inertia for years, and their momentum slows down with each passing year. Their one claim to fame has been an okay search engine (since supplanted by Google) and a deal (since terminated) with Microsoft to make Yahoo! the default home page of Internet Explorer.

Mayer is trying to turn around the ship. And she's trying to do it by changing the corporate culture, trimming the copious amounts of excess fat, and by focusing Yahoo! as an online media site. The latter two are simply plans for a managed decline and the former is almost impossible. Culture can't be imposed from the top down, at least, not easily. It took Peter the Great decades changing Tsarist Russia into a modern European empire and while he was able to change the culture of his Royal Court (he was, after all, an autocrat), the serfs were still serfs.

Mayer is an autocrat in the sense that she can essentially rule by diktat. The board has given her quite a bit of leeway and shareholders have actually received her pretty well, as evidenced by Yahoo!'s stock price:

Yahoo!'s stock price from mid-July to now.
This is the fundamental problem with the blogosphere. Everybody has an opinion. And if you happen to work for Slate, The Atlantic, CNN, MSNBC, or any other major media/news organization, you get paid quite a bit to share your opinion with the masses. But sometimes the bloggers are writing on matters that they have absolutely no expertise in. These people are nothing more than excellent students who graduated from top universities and then did a grueling, low-paid (or unpaid) internship in order to have a shot at becoming a salaried writer.

I'm essentially invoking the Vietnam argument. You don't know, man. Because you weren't there! Having a B.A in liberal arts from Harvard gives you no credentials to second guess a CEO. Knowing how to use an iPhone doesn't qualify you to wax poetic on Apple's stock price. Being a decent wordsmith doesn't make you a decent analyst. But all of those headlines and those opinions and those insufferably arrogant bloggers try and pretend otherwise.

Frankly, I'm sick of it. These are the opinion shapers of America, and they're doing the rest of the country a huge disservice.

* I realize and appreciate the irony.

No comments:

Post a Comment