When Leadership Styles Clash: Marissa Mayer at Google

'Marissa Mayer and the Fight to Save Yahoo' by Nicholas Carlson (ISBN 1455556610) Differences in leadership style can cause friction in a relationship. Two noteworthy anecdotes from Marissa Mayer and the Fight to Save Yahoo by Nicholas Carlson:

One peer Mayer’s style irked in particular was Salar Kamangar. Kamangar joined Google as its ninth employee. He drafted its original business plan and handled financing and legal early on. Younger than Mayer, he rose along with her at Google, though not as conspicuously. Mayer and Kamangar clashed often. The specific habit of Mayer’s that drove Kamangar nuts was her ability to speak incredibly fast, not allowing him to reenter the debate. The rivalry between Mayer and Kamangar was so intense that when Kamangar was made a vice president before her, she threatened to quit the company. She got her promotion months later. That kind of naked ambition was also hard for some people to take. Many early Google employees believed Mayer was too quick to take credit for successful products that were either first imagined by or built on the back end by others.


Starting in 2001, Mayer and a deeply respected Google search scientist named Krishna Bharat teamed up to build Google News. Bharat was one of the engineers who had followed Jeff Dean from DEC to Google. Bharat was renowned for his work in information processing and information retrieval-the real, gritty technical stuff that makes a search engine work. Bharat had an interest in news-and in doing semantic analysis of documents. Those interests led him to develop the underpinnings of the technology that would eventually become central to Google News. With Mayer, he worked to turn that technology into a product for normal users. To the equation, she brought a sense of how users would actually interact with Google News. It was a healthy relationship for a long time. Then Google News began to get very popular. It was one of Google’s first noncore search products to achieve escape velocity. Rightly, both Bharat and Mayer felt pride of parenthood. The difference was that Bharat, like many engineers, was the quiet, cerebral type. Mayer was more of a self-promoter with outward-facing responsibilities. In the press, at conferences, even in lectures at Stanford, she would casually discuss Google News as a product she had led to launch. Over time, it began to sound to Bharat that Mayer was claiming the idea as her own and taking all the public credit for the success of Google News. Their relationship soured.

It’s difficult to change the leadership style and yet it’s easier to change the style than the system.

Posted in Management and Leadership

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