The French philosopher Voltaire said, “Common sense, it’s not that common.”
I thought about this quote when I heard that Marisa Mayer, the new CEO of Yahoo, who gave birth to a baby boy on October 1, had emailed numerous contacts to “crowdsource” a name for the baby. No, I did not make that up. Now, if you’re up on your Silicon Valley news, you know that Marisa Mayer is a few months into her CEO role at Yahoo after serving as a Vice President for many years at Google during which time she amassed a fortune north of $300 million. She’s married to a philanthropist (incidentally, the only other person I know described as a philanthropist is Bruce Wayne) named Zachary Bogue. You know that she’s going to try to turn Yahoo around – an incredibly tall task given the rapid pace of technology – and you know her first incredibly strategic move was to provide free lunch for employees. You also know that countless bloggers, media and experts in you-name-it have discussed her much maligned (sorry, showing my bias there) decision to take a 1-2 week maternity leave (“working the entire time”) following the birth of her yet-to-be named child.
I want to be clear about something before I go further. I don’t know Ms. Mayer or her husband, and I doubt I ever will. By all accounts, she’s successful, brilliant, accomplished and easy-on-the-eyes (I only wrote that because it’s in EVERY story you read about her). I feel uncomfortable judging a person I’ve never met, especially when it comes to their personal life – as I would hate for someone to judge me. Everything about her maternity leave and whether “she can have it all” has already been said and all I can contribute is that it’s her decision, no matter what I or anyone else thinks.
But, I do feel comfortable discussing one small but significant part of this story. And that is her decision-making ability, because it’s relevant to her role as CEO, the thousands of employees she’s responsible for, the people like me who use Yahoo, and all of Yahoo’s investors.
The main responsibility of a CEO is to make decisions, difficult decisions, and be able to “sell” them. I recently read a story about President Obama in Vanity Fair, and I’m paraphrasing here, but he basically said that his decisions are by definition hard and a President has to be comfortable with probabilities because if a decision wasn’t hard it would have already been solved by someone else before he sees it. Isn’t that mostly the same for a Fortune 500 CEO? So, what does it say that given nine months to decide, Ms. Mayer and her husband couldn’t decide on a name?
Giving your child a name can indeed be difficult – it’s subjective, there’s no right answer, may require negotiation and compromise, and most importantly, it’s a long-term decision as your child will bear it the rest of his life – exactly the type of decision that she’ll need to make if she wants to turn around Yahoo. And unlike many of the decisions she’ll make it Yahoo, she had months to settle on a name that she liked. When my wife and I decided on a name for our baby boy, I had a few rules – nothing too trendy that would be weird when he was 35, not a verb like mine, and if he was going to get beat up in school, it couldn’t be because of his name. That’s it. We agreed that his middle name “Chase” could be the more trendy name since it would be his decision on whether to use it or not.
Ms. Mayer didn’t merely stumble over making a decision. Perhaps worse yet, she “phoned a friend.” From what I’ve read, she didn’t just ask her family, which would be ok and pretty normal. She instead sent a email to many people – even reporters — thus exposing her inability to make this very critical and personal decision. I hope for the sake of everyone associated with Yahoo, and that of her newborn son, that this was just an anomaly and she thought it was cute and funny. I recognize that crowdsourcing is trendy and democratic but I want my CEO to have a plan and be decisive.
While I’m at it, I am sad to think Ms. Mayer’s son will use Bogue as his last name. I had some very creative ideas if she stuck with Mayer (John? Oscar?). But, perhaps Vogue Bogue works – Ms. Mayer can honor her now-famous profile story in the ultimate fashion bible. Vogue Bogue has some character. It’s prestigious, it’s timeless, it’s trendy – and best of all, if he gets beat up at the playground, at least mom and dad will know why.Photo courtesy of Flickr/Frank Gruber Photo courtesy of Flickr/Cyril Attias