New Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer confirmed on Monday that she and husband Zachary Bogue are expecting a son in October. Her pregnancy makes all the more notable Mayer’s landmark appointment to the helm of a tech titan – only 19 Fortune 500 companies are headed by women, and not long ago a pregnant chief executive was unthinkable. But beyond her pregnancy, she is a multifaceted, dynamic leader who might prove to be the smartest choice for Yahoo since it fell from grace. Here are some lesser-known facts about Mayer that hold clues to her ability to save Yahoo.
1. She Lives in a Hotel
Mayer currently resides in a penthouse she owns in San Francisco’s posh Four Seasons hotel. The usual hassles of day-to-day life are taken care of for her – so she’ll be able to give Yahoo her full attention.
Digs at the Four Seasons are just one reward for being Google’s 20th hire, joining the fledgling company in 1999. Straight out of Stanford, Mayer had 14 job offers, which she organized into a spreadsheet that she examined relentlessly. Upon choosing Google, she became the company’s first female engineer. Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin sought a good gender balance for their young company from the start, she told Newsweek:
“Right away during my interview, [Google co-founders] Larry [Page] and Sergey [Brin] said, “You know, we have seven engineers, and they’re all guys. But we’ve thought a lot about how we want to start our company, and we’ve read a lot of books, and we know that organizations work better when there is gender balance. So it’s important to us that we have a strong group of women, especially technical women, in the company.”
2. She’s an Artificial Intelligence Whiz
Mayer holds patents in artificial intelligence and search: #20090204592, “Interface for a universal search” and #20090063425, “Query rewriting with entity detection.” That shows she has the kind of tech smarts Yahoo is in dire need of.
She graduated from Stanford with a B.S. in symbolic systems and an M.S. in computer science. Eventually, the offbeat degree in symbolic systems put her directly on the path to search at Google: “I took a computer-science course to fill a prerequisite at Stanford,” she told Newsweek, “and I realized that every day was a new problem and every day you got to think about how to solve something new, how to reason through something new, how to develop an algorithm to solve for something you hadn’t worked on before. It was something that I just found really intellectually interesting. Then I found this interesting, quirky degree program called symbolic systems, which is philosophy, cognitive psychology, linguistics, and computer science.”
3. She Intended to Be a Neurosurgeon
Turning around Yahoo may not be brain surgery, but it’s close. Upon enrolling at Stanford, Mayer told IEEE Spectrum, “I was going to be a pediatric neurosurgeon.” But after taking an introductory computer science course required of all pre-med students, she veered toward her future as an engineer.
Contrary to some reports, Mayer was never a cheerleader (beyond evangelizing for Google). In 2009, Mayer told Vogue: “I never yelled at anything or led cheers. I’m way too shy. I took a classical-ballet training and turned it into dance team in high school.”
4. She’s an Athlete
Running a major tech company – pregnant, no less – will take stamina. Mayer has proven her mettle in that department. In a 2009 interview with The New York Times, Mayer revealed her sporty side.
“I ran the San Francisco half marathon this year,” she said. “I did the Portland marathon. I went skiing just yesterday. I’m going to do the Birkebeiner, which is North America’s longest cross-country ski race. That just shows you how much there are gaps.”
She climbs mountains, too. Two years ago, Mayer scaled Mt. Kilimanjaro and tweeted an image with the caption “From the top of Kilimanjaro! 4 days and 4 hours round trip.”
5. She’s a Fashionista
Mayer is big into style – something Yahoo could do with more of. An attendee of New York Fashion Week, Mayer once paid $60,000 to have lunch with her favorite designer, Oscar de la Renta, at a charity auction. Her eye for design influenced everything from Google’s primary color palette to its spartan home page, which Mayer is often credited with keeping clutter-free. According to the fashion-minded exec, “When people go to my house they’ll say, ‘Does Google look like your house or does your house look like Google?’”
Photo by Magnus Hoij, Flickr