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7 Takes on the Marissa Mayer Pregnancy 'Issue' From Investing Experts


A range of smart opinions on the so-called controversy surrounding Yahoo's new CEO from analysts, investors, and traders.

MINYANVILLE ORIGINAL Shortly after news broke yesterday that Marissa Mayer, 37, would become the new CEO of Yahoo, media attention shifted to a more personal update about the star executive, one that came straight from her:

And from that moment on, the press was drawn back into a debate about working mothers that -- thanks to the recent story in Atlantic magazine, Why Women Can't Have It All -- was already at the forefront of an intense national discussion.

Of course, Mayer is unlike most of the women discussed in the Atlantic story -- that is, well-educated high-earners. She is a mega-earner, worth $300 million thanks to her achievements at Google (GOOG), and she's now in charge of a Fortune 500 company. Some pundits have wondered whether Yahoo investors need to be concerned about those few weeks of maternity leave Mayer's planning to take but work through. In a Forbes story, writer Francine McKenna asks, "What Does Yahoo Have to Disclose?" and compares this situation to the way Apple (AAPL) handled disclosures about the health of the late Steve Jobs.

Are any of these concerns or discussions valid? And if Mayer's pregnancy is a non-issue, as the Yahoo board decided, what should investors actually be watching for? We asked 10 expert investors, traders, and analysts to share their thoughts.

No Secret, No Worries
By Laura Martin

Let's look at this "issue."

Legal? In the US, you can't discriminate on the basis of gender, even if someone is pregnant.

A secret? Really? The Wall Street Journal said she is due in October. If so, this is July, so she's in the third trimester, which means she is showing a baby bump. Silicon Valley is a tiny community, so everyone must have known. Therefore, the concept that it was a "secret" until after they offered her the job is analytically suspect. [Editor's note: According to news reports, Mayers informed the board of her pregnancy.]

For shareholders and employees the most important question is, can she do the job? I think pregnancy has no bearing on this question. If she takes three months off after having the baby, the board will look stupid. If she works right through and keeps the Yahoo team on task and the ship on course, it will be inconsequential. History will tell the story.

The Yahoo CEO seat is a hard job with not too many takers; if Marissa does the job, she will become the poster child for women that "can have it all." If not, she'll simply be like her predecessors Carol Bartz and Scott Thompson.

Bottom line, what will make Marissa a successful CEO at Yahoo has less to do with her child-bearing status and more to do with her vision, training, motivation, and team-building skills. I hope she succeeds -- it would be great for the 14,000 Yahoo employees who need stable leadership behind their paychecks.

Laura Martin, CFA, is Senior Analyst, Entertainment, Cable & Media at Needham & Company. Her complete bio can be found here.

Let's Focus on the Real Concerns, Please
By Chris Dixon

It's pleasing to see that the board has "evolved" enough to take Marissa Mayer's pregnancy in stride and look to her as a way to reinvigorate a company that has been struggling for an identity in the ever-changing world of new media. The bigger issue is what she can bring to the party to recast an "old" Internet information company in the new world of tablets, mobile devices, and changing consumer behavior. And how will her experiences at Google (GOOG) help? As Tim Armstrong has found at AOL (AOL), lessons learned in the Googleplex don't always transfer to other board rooms and cultures.

For analysts and investors, the key problem will be whether or not she can create an overarching context for Yahoo's unique mix of products and develop a new monetization engine. At its heart, like AOL, Yahoo is a new media company – creating and manufacturing content that is then distributed across a variety of platforms to new electronic devices and displays. By definition, the business model is based on creating, manufacturing, and aggregating engaging bits of information that are then displayed in formats and frameworks that engage the user and generate traffic, traffic that's then rented to third parties seeking to reach new consumers. Google's magic has come from its ability to seamlessly create a monetization engine that (unlike television) is completely opaque to the user. The viewer doesn't know that when he clicks on a search item an advertiser has paid for that traffic, which is incidentally the same model behind Facebook (FB).

Thus the problem for the legacy online behemoths (read: AOL and Yahoo) is how to migrate into a new world less dependent on old-fashioned interstitial ads and display. Those first-generation online companies, as well as current online divisions of newspapers, are still caught emulating magazine and television models of old. Coming from Google, Ms. Mayer understands this, but the challenge will be in finding a path to move from the current middle ground of old media models and leap frog into the next generation of monetization around a diversified suite of branded Yahoo products. It's a big jump, and will require carefully walking the line between "old media" and next-generation monetization -- or as Margot Channing, another talented lady who strove to have it all in All About Eve said, "Fasten your seat belts, it's going to be bumpy night."

Chris Dixon has over 30 years of experience in operating and investing roles in the media and entertainment industry. He served as strategic advisor and managing director, media investments, for Gabelli Group Capital Partners where he focused on investing in privately held emerging media companies. He is currently Minyanville's Non-Executive Vice Chair.

Weak Social Mood Prompts Extra Scrutiny
By Peter Atwater

The media interest in Ms. Mayer's pregnancy is very consistent with our weak social mood. Everything is under the microscope, especially at the CEO level.

I have been telling business leaders for some time that the new weak social mood-driven disclosure requirements for all corporations are: transparent, authentic, immediate, and complete.

As we have seen of late repeatedly from the financial services industry, anything less will bring intense scrutiny, and not just from investors, but from the media and government regulatory agencies as well.

For corporate leaders, every day is a day with the TSA. Comply, or it'll be a strip search at gunpoint.

Peter Atwater is the President and CEO of Financial Insyghts LLC. Through Financial Insyghts, Peter helps his clients better understand the issues affecting the financial services industry (particularly credit, regulation, and accounting) and their impact on the economy. He is also a frequent contributor to Minyanville; read his recent articles here.

The $300 Million Makes a Difference
By Conor Sen

Marissa Mayer's pregnancy matters in the same way that Doc Rivers, coach of the Boston Celtics, flying to Duke basketball games to watch his son play matters -- it's a personal commitment of hers that will consume some time but in no way should detract from her ability to run Yahoo. Marissa Meyer is not like you or me. She's worth $300 million. She doesn't have to cook meals, do the laundry, or change diapers if she doesn't want. She doesn't have to worry about getting a last-minute babysitter. And while being the CEO of Yahoo is more prestigious than being an executive at Google, I'm guessing she wasn't exactly part-timing it over there.
It's great to see another woman in charge of a Fortune 500 company. Too many corporate cultures remain wedded to a 9 a.m.-5 p.m., 8 a.m.-6 p.m., or longer, workday, with everyone getting together at a single office, a cultural relic of the industrial era. I blame the stubbornness of men, who, whether they'll admit it or not, consider busy-ness, long hours, and workplace anxiety virtues. In an age where increasingly economic output is about moments of insight and creativity rather than clock-punching on an assembly line, the employees of Yahoo -- and all of us -- stand to gain from a different approach, and I wish Mayer the best of luck.

Conor Sen is currently a private investor, and recently spent more than four years at a multi-billion-dollar West Coast-based hedge fund. Follow him on Twitter at @conorsen. Find his recent articles for Minyanville here.

By Steve Birenberg

I think it is irrelevant. Ms. Mayer appears to a competent, well-qualified person. Who cares?

Steven Birenberg is president of Northlake Capital Management, an SEC-registered investment advisor utilizing a unique strategy combining index ETFS and media and communications stocks. Read Steve's articles for Minyanville here.

Have a Problem With This? You're in Luck
By Michael Comeau

If Marissa Mayer's family and doctors, and Yahoo's board, have no issue with her serving as CEO while carrying a baby, then none of us should either. But what about Yahoo shareholders? Should this matter to them?

I'm going to guess no. Ideas and the ability to drive a simple, straightforward mission will fix Yahoo, and I don't think Ms. Mayer's pregnancy is relevant in this regard.

She's either got the intellect and tools to push the company forward, or she doesn't. Her resume certainly indicates that she's an absolutely top-shelf tech and she's got as good a chance at succeeding as anyone else.

But if you think morning sickness and bed-rest requirements will limit her ability to perform, then you're in luck.

See, the great thing about investing in public companies is that you can walk away -- or get short -- at any time.

But on a personal note, I can't help but think that spending time with a newborn baby seems infinitely more rewarding than engineering the turnaround of a major company, especially since in Ms. Mayer's case, paying the bills is not an issue.

There will always be companies in need of CEOs, but babies don't stay babies for very long.

Frankly, this is a point that both men and women who achieve early financial success should consider. I've met plenty of parents who hated spending time away from their newborns, but they had bills to pay and careers to build.

Oh well. I'm sure there's room for a playpen in the CEO suite at Yahoo.

Michael Comeau edits Minyanville's Buzz & Banter, and is also a regular columnist on, focusing on technology and consumer stocks. Read his recent articles here.

A New Poster Woman for Female Executives?
By Janice Dorn

Peter Atwater makes a great point when referencing the dark social mood (see above). This pregnancy discussion is a distraction from the pressing issues that confront us from every side. I can just see Dr. Drew or Piers Morgan spending a show or two discussing this issue and bringing in so-called experts to see this issue in terms of the "pros and cons." Then the phone calls will start pouring in from all over the country so the people get to voice their opinions. Then the programs will end with no conclusions other than, "Well, I guess we stirred up enough controversy on that issue. What's next?"

In the end, unless this is a complicated pregnancy with health consequences to mother or child, this is likely to be a non-issue in one sense. In another sense, if she carries a healthy baby to term, provides wonderful care and nurturing to the baby and does a super job at Yahoo, she will be the poster woman for aspiring female entrepreneurs around the world. Rosie Pope, the Maternity Concierge on the Bravo network show Pregnant in Heels comes to mind. She continued to work right up to her pregnancy, viewers followed her through the entire pregnancy and she delivered the baby on TV! The times they are a-changin' for sure!

Dr. Janice Dorn is a trader and trading coach. She holds a Ph.D. in Brain Anatomy and an M.D. She is certified by The American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology and The American Board of Addiction Medicine. She has written over 1,200 articles on trading psychology, trader health/wellness, and trader longevity. She is a frequent contributor to the Buzz and Banter.

Leave us your thoughts below.

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