Yahoo!'s Marissa Mayer told: ’I'm a dirty old man and you look attractive”
Marissa Mayer, chief executive of Yahoo!, expected to turn up to her first shareholder meeting since she joined to talk about the company’s strategy. But the investor jamboree was overshadowed by comments about her gender and appearance.
The 38-year-old former Google executive was told by one investor at the meeting in Sunnyvale, California: “I have 2,000 Yahoo! shares, I’m Greek, I’m a dirty old man and you look attractive.”
Ms Mayer, dressed in a modest shift dress and heels, pointedly ignored the remark as she went on to address his other concerns.
Other shareholders paid tribute to Ms Mayer for smashing the so-called “glass ceiling” by becoming the leader of a major technology company at a young age, at the same time as she was pregnant with her first child. They also lobbied her to use her position to stand up for the rights of other women.
One investor, a single mother who claimed she has been unfairly dismissed by Walmart, the US supermarket giant on whose board Ms Mayer also sits, issued an emotional plea to the technology executive to help her get her job back.
“When you had your baby three months after joining Yahoo!, I was proud that women had finally shattered that unbreakable glass ceiling,” she said. “Ms Mayer, many women throughout Silicon Valley and the world look up to you [and] the company has benefitted as a result…now we are asking that you also be a leader at Walmart.”
The shareholder’s request was one of a number of similar pleas by former Walmart employees. Ms Mayer, a Stanford University graduate who rose through the ranks of Google before her surprise defection to Yahoo!, batted them away, saying she would not address them in the Yahoo! meeting and that she would refer them to Walmart’s lawyers.
Steering the discussion back to Yahoo!, she underscored the improvement in staff morale over the past year, during which time its share price has risen by more than two-thirds. The company receives up to 10,000 job applications a week, while 12pc of new hires are “boomerangers” - former Yahoo! staff who want to return because they are “so inspired by the energy within the company”, she said.
She also highlighted Yahoo!’s investment in research and development, but struggled to convince shareholders the company can compete with the likes of Google, where she used to work.
Investors questioned how Yahoo!’s team of 3,000 R&D workers could ever put the company back on an equal footing with Google, which has around 19,000. Ms Mayer, who five years ago was making a similar argument at Google’s annual general meeting, responded by styling Yahoo! as “the world’s biggest start-up”.
“Never underestimate the power of a small group. It always starts somewhere,” she said.
The self-professed “dirty old man” also called on Ms Mayer to reverse her controversial ban on Yahoo! employees working from home, a move which he claimed was eroding staff morale, separating parents from their children, and had attracted negative press.
Ms Mayer, who has been criticised for building a nursery in the Yahoo! office for her own child, stood by the new initiative. “People are more productive in isolation, but they are more collaborative and innovative in a group setting. That is not to say [the ban on working from home] will always be the case, but that is the way it is today,” she said.