In an industry dominated by men, Yahoo (NASDAQ:YHOO) CEO Marissa Mayer stands out. Flanked by rivals such as Larry Page, Tim Cook, and Steve Ballmer, the 38-year-old businesswoman unleashes her power at the top of a 30-billion-dollar company and takes no prisoners while doing it. Though the CEO is widely admired and looked up to by men and women everywhere, Mayer has also been criticized ruthlessly for her leadership practices, strict employee requirements, and merciless approach. Nonetheless, the engineer, mother, and CEO appears to remain unfazed by the incoming claims, and recent reports actually help illuminate a comparison that may explain how Mayer can be so successful, but also so widely misunderstood and controversial.
If one considers other high-profile executives who manage a highly successful company, but still catch flak for their executive style, it’s likely that Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) CEO Jeff Bezos is one of the first to come to mind. The billionaire entrepreneur has secured the attention of consumers everywhere as more enlightening reports about his leadership practices materialize, and if one looks closely, there are stark similarities that the two ambitious CEOs clearly share.
Whether they are positive personality traits, unique executive strategies, or controversial styles, Mayer and Bezos have both managed to reap the significant benefits of their leadership practices by executing their companies in many of the same ways. Here are five similarities one can draw between the 38-year-old Mayer and the 49-year-old Bezos. See if you agree with the comparison.
1. Ranking Employees on a Bell Curve
The latest information to come out about Bezos and Mayer is that both executives enforce the ranking of their subordinates on a bell curve, often firing those at the low end of the spectrum. Such a practice has been criticized for inaccurately measuring employee worth, pitting workers up against one other, and even dehumanizing them. However, tech companies have still been known to embrace the ruthless ranking because it keeps employees accountable and gives in to Silicon Valley’s affinity for hard numbers.
We first learned about the Amazon CEO’s exercise of this technique when author Jeff Stone published a sneak peak of his Bezos biography back in October, and explained that managers in departments of 50 people or more at Amazon are often called on to “top-grade” their workers on a curve and then dismiss the least effective performers. Although it’s a ruthless practice, it keeps Amazon employees on their toes and avoids any risk of complacency.
In addition, Businessweek reported Wednesday that Mayer also embraces the rankings, much to her subordinates’ chagrin, and the publication explained that many Yahoo employees are vehemently upset with the practice. According to All Things D, Mayer reportedly told Yahoo workers that the rankers weren’t mandatory, but rather encouraged. However, many people disagreed with that assertion, and it is thus possible that the bell curve is just as ever-present down in Sunnyvale, California, as it is in Seattle, Washington.
2. Buying Out Startups
Another strength that Mayer and Bezos are both known for is their ability to buy out startups, and either alleviate competition or strengthen their own competitive edge by convincing entrepreneurs to join a bigger team and ditch their startup roots. Though Amazon and Yahoo typically have different agendas when it comes to the buyouts, both companies have proven their uncanny ability to recognize early talent and capitalize on the startups with the most potential, making sure they’re on board for the respective teams.
Mayer is especially known for identifying winning startups and the CEO has made headlines this year as she swiftly orchestrated 17 acquisitions within the first 12 months of her reign, including Tumblr, Summly, Quiki, Xobni, and HitPost. Mayer has made sure to increase Yahoo’s footprint in the mobile space, and she understands that more often than not, the young and feisty entrepreneurs are the first ones who know how to secure it.
Amazon, on the other hand, is different than Yahoo in that the young and feisty entrepreneurs are the exact executives that the retail giant doesn’t go after, but instead, Bezos targets the up-and-coming companies that threaten its business. In his biography, Stone details the ruthless practice Bezos orchestrated to ensure that the owners of Quidsi, or Diapers.com, handed over the reigns of its business (basically smoking it out), and the startup was only one of many that suffered the same fate.
3. Innovating Where Rivals Haven’t
Speaking of Diapers.com, it is through Amazon’s emerging diaper product business that we can highlight another similarity that Bezos and Mayer both share: they encourage their companies to innovate in the small places their rivals haven’t.
Amazon’s main competitors Wal-Mart Stores (NYSE:WMT) and Target (NYSE:TGT) offer many of the same products that the e-commerce giant does, but what about the spaces in between that the brick-and-mortar retailers just missed? Say, the opportunity to offer consumers recurring deliveries of diapers and other household goods to ensure a house is always fully stocked? Bet you didn’t think of that one, huh Wally World? Amazon will also now deliver fresh produce right to your door via Amazon Fresh — a promise that neither Wal-Mart nor Target can make — and it even is starting to offer shipping on Sundays, a day that everyone except Bezos values as a day a rest.
Mayer, too, jumps at the opportunity to capitalize on what other competitors have overlooked, and that is evidenced by her $1 billion acquisition of Tumblr, the widely popular microblogging platform. Currently, Yahoo doesn’t stand a chance to live up to Google’s (NASDAQ:GOOG) No. 1 search engine, or its ever-developing advances in technology, but what Mayer can do is fill in the rival’s spaces, and that includes developing a blogging space that Larry Page and Sergey Brin has yet to take advantage of.
4. No Working From Home
Next up is an employee requirement that has caught Mayer a lot of recent flak, but somehow Bezos has managed to take with stride. Both executives typically forbid telecommuting and require their companies’ employees to work from the office, bucking the national trend of more and more employees working from home. Bloomberg reported back in February that 20 to 30 million Americans now work from home at least once a week, but both Bezos and Mayer forbid the practice, arguing that employee interaction and teamwork is imperative to each respective company’s success.
Consumers were enlightened about this Yahoo rule in February when a memo was leaked from the company, and Mayer subsequently came under significant fire as she reportedly deeply offended women who felt she should support feminist rights and the ability to manage a family as well as a career. Despite the shaming, however, Mayer has stuck to her guns and Yahoo workers continue to visit the office each day, whether they agree with the CEO’s approach or not.
Bezos, too, requires that his employees come to work everyday in the maniacal corporate culture that is Amazon, and the CEO demands that his minions work in groups together, bouncing ideas off of each other before they even think about presenting anything to Bezos. Amazon encourages confrontation amongst coworkers and Stone reported in his biography that Bezos believes “the truth shakes out when ideas are banged against each other.” Therefore, it would be almost impossible for Amazon employees to work from home, unless the CEO could facilitate some kind of cyber-fighting, but for now, we think he’ll likely stick with the traditional route.
5. They’re Both Always Right
Lastly, as for the least surprising character trait both Mayer and Bezos share — they’re both always right. It is interesting that Mayer has been so significantly criticized for this aggressive nature, while Bezos has been lauded for it — evidencing what may be the real problem in the misogynistic tech industry. Nonetheless, both CEOs have been highlighted for their ability to rule over the masses, inspire fear in their subordinates, and erect themselves as the chief quality control leaders of their own respective companies.
In Bezos’s case, Amazon veterans are often quick to highlight the CEO’s absurd antics and ruthless attacks, but as Stone maintains, they also have to reluctantly admit that his criticisms are almost always on target. Few of Bezos’s employees ever boast the courage (or stupidity) to dispute any of the CEO’s claims, perhaps understanding that he is truly is always right, but when they do, they are often answered with something along the lines of “Do I need to go down and get the certificate that says I’m CEO of the company to get you to stop challenging me on this?” That’s usually all the reminder they need.
As for Mayer, she, too, is known for being overly confident in her own conclusions, as one engineer told Business Insider, “I’ve never had a conversation with her when she wasn’t completely certain she was right.” However, this personality trait is arguably not only shared by both Mayer and Bezos, but also all executives of any major company. Thus, it is clear that Mayer and Bezos share many of the same executive styles, and they can credit those strategies for each of their significant successes. Yahoo definitely has a long way to go before it can boast the kind of tech domination that Amazon currently enjoys, but don’t underestimate Mayer just yet. She’s only been at Yahoo for a little over a year, and if we’ve learned anything about the CEO, it’s that the woman has potential to make big moves.