Marissa Mayer Grilled By Yahoo Shareholders

Michelle Maisto covers mobile devices, Android and Apple for eWEEK and is also a food writer.

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Yahoo shareholders asked CEO Marissa Mayer some cringe making questions at the annual meeting

Marissa Mayer faced some tough questions at Yahoo’s annual shareholders meeting 25 June, her first since she became CEO.

And the company had plenty of news to share after it reported that user activity is up 10 percent. And user interactions on the home page are up 25 percent. Since redesigning and relaunching Flickr, photo uploads have increased fourfold. And that 1 terabyte of storage space that Yahoo gives away free to each Flickr user? It’s enough to store 537,000 photos.

Uncomfortable Questions

Since January, Yahoo has acquired 14 companies. And Yahoo’s stock, from last June to this June, said Mayer, is the best-performing stock among all industry players.

yahoo logoThe event seemed primed for a fascinating hour-plus of live-streaming video (you can still watch it). But Yahoo shareholders, who are entitled to three minutes of microphone time, instead made for more uncomfortable viewing than back-to-back episodes of Curb Your Enthusiasm.

One stood up to say, “I’m … a dirty old man, and you look attractive, Marissa.”

He went on to criticise her decision to cancel the work-from-home arrangements that some Yahoo employees had – a decision that made headlines and sparked impassioned debate around the globe.

“Are you gonna keep it that way? I’m sure they not happy that they’re back here,” the shareholder went on.

Mayer ignored the first part of his comment and gamely answered the second, saying for not the first time that Yahoo’s policy is “not an industry-wide narrative … but at this time it’s right for Yahoo to have people in the office because that’s where things happen.”

She offered the example of Yahoo’s weather app, which recently won a 2013 Apple Design Award. The app now pulls weather images from Flickr – an idea that came from the kind of in-office, water-cooler collaborating that Mayer is banking on.

She added that while people are more productive in isolation, “they’re more collaborative and inventive in group settings. … That’s not to say it will always be that way, but that’s the way it is for now.”

Someone else stood up, speaking on behalf of a shareholder, to ask support for women and children in China. Another stood up to ask whom Mayer would support if the San Francisco 49ers play the Green Bay Packers. (Mayer is from Wisconsin; she backed the Packers.)

Workers Rights

And at least three shareholders, who are also current or former employees of Walmart, gave speeches asking Mayer, who is on the board of Walmart, to help them fight Walmart’s anti-employee practices.

One woman told the story of standing up for workers’ rights, only to be fired by Walmart.

A man stood and asked Mayer what she would do if certain fired employees were her mother or father or sister or brother. And another woman, who apparently believed that a female CEO would be more sympathetic to the workers’ plight than Walmart’s other board members, said she was “proud to finally have an advocate on Walmart’s board” but that her feelings of hope “have not been realised.”

“In the last year you have repeatedly ignored our requests to hear our concerns,” she said, pausing several times to compose herself.

Mayer expressed her sympathy for their situation but repeated that the morning “is about Yahoo, which is separate from Walmart,” and offered to put them in touch with the general counsel of Walmart, Jeff Gearhart.

The day before the shareholders meeting, approximately 30 people gathered in the lobby of Yahoo’s headquarters to protest Walmart’s firing of 11 employees who went on strike. The protesters demanded to speak with Mayer, and five of them were eventually arrested after refusing to leave, according to a report from The Nation.

“There’s a time and a place for all types of business,” said Mayer.

She went on to eventually take a question from a shareholder who commended her handling of his shares. Then, calling her “girl wonder,” he referred to the marketing poster behind Mayer, which showed a man being lifted off the ground by helium balloons, and proposed that next year it be Mayer and her “team wonder” in the poster instead.

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Originally published on eWeek.