Millionaire Story – Marissa Mayer CEO Yahoo

Looking at the seemingly charmed life of Marissa Mayer makes one wonder “could I have done that?”

With an estimated net worth of $300 million and a brand spanking new contract with Yahoo as the new CEO ( a contract worth around $70 million in the next five years), she definitely qualifies to be part of the millionaire story.

Her list of honors, awards and accomplishments is exceedingly long and includes:

  • Graduation with honors from Stanford with both a B.S and an M.S in artificial intelligence
  • Completion of two international internships
  • Recipient of the Centennial Teaching and Forsythe Awards for contributions to undergraduate education (she taught more than 3000 students at Stanford)
  • Honorary doctorate of engineering from the Illinois Institute of Technology
  • Matrix Award from the NY Women in Communications,
  • Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum
  • Woman of the Year by Glamour magazine
  • One of Forbe’s 50 most powerful women in business for 4 years
  • A key employee in Googles development (she started out of college and worked there for 14 years in positions of increasing responsibility)
  • Board positions at Walmart and several nonprofits including the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the San Francisco Ballet and the New York City Ballet
  • Credited with inventor status on several patents in AI and interface design and
  • Popular guest speaker on television news programs and talk shows.

She seemed like the all American girl next door.

Raised in Wausau, Wis. northwest of Milwaukee by an art teacher Mom and an engineer Dad, she seemed like the all American girl next door. Her childhood and high school years included classical ballet lessons, Brownies, ice skating, running a cash register at the grocery store, pom-pom squad and debate team. This granddaughter of polio stricken mayor of Jackson WI excelled at math and science and always thought she would grow up to be a doctor.

Now, most of us could identify with activities in the above paragraph, so where did this youngest person on the Forbes list of the 50 most powerful women begin to diverge from the paths the rest of us took?

What made her path different than ours?

She was smart. Mayer was selected by Wisconsin governor Tommy Thompson as one of the state’s two delegates to attend the National Youth Science Camp in West Virginia.

She was competitive. Honing her work ethic while working at the grocery store in high-school by memorizing the codes on the produce so she could cut the time it took to check out the customers down to the levels the folks who had been doing it for years had. She was one of the top debaters on the high school debate team, and the pom squad she participated in was runner up for the state competition the year she joined (to prove that smart kids could do pom).

She went for it. She applied to Stanford and got in. Would you have thought about applying to go to Stanford? I never did. Stanford is very picky about who they let in. The average candidate for their freshman class has perfect ACT or SAT scores, more than a 4 point GPA and leadership in multiple activities and sports. To get in, you have to really stand out in your essay and recommendations. Plus it can now cost over $60K a year to attend!

She took risks. The offers poured in when she graduated, but she accepted the one from the 8 person start up company (Google)– definitely not the sure thing.

She pushed herself beyond her comfort zone. Although she started out at Google writing code, she soon enough began to lead teams of engineers and she carved a niche for herself within the company (developing new products).

Could I have done what she did?
Well, I didn’t. I could make up a number of excuses for not doing so, but it all boils down to not knowing that I could have! You don’t know what you don’t know. Some of us go through life with blinders on – whether that be by choice or accident. We just don’t see the possibilities.

Key turning points (in my opinion) that led to her ‘charmed’ path.

  • Parents who raised her to be intelligent and daring.
  • Family role models, such as her Grandfather, demonstrated that you can overcome difficulties.
  • The decision to attend a university that provided an environment where ideas and capabilities thrive and succeed – an incubator – Stanford.
  • The decision to study computer science and technology instead of medicine.
  • Surrounding herself with brilliant people.

Who knows, maybe the decision to assume the role of President and CEO of Yahoo might also be a key turning point for her. She is certainly taking a risk – as the recent CEOs have failed to turn around Yahoo and left the company. Perhaps she will lead Yahoo into a great competition with Google and rein them in a bit from the monopoly they are developing in the online world.

Oh, by the way, she is only 37, just married and pregnant with her first child.

Are you finding the opportunities around you?  What are you doing at your key turning point?

Thanks Marissa, for busting down some more glass ceilings for womankind!


  • Fox News New Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayers Extraordinary Words and Compensation
  • Lap Top Mag 7 Things You Need to Know About Marissa Mayer
  • CNN Money Yahoo CEO Pay
  • CNN Fast Facts Marissa Mayer
  • New York Times Putting a Bolder Face on Google
  • Business Wire Yahoo Appoints Marissa Mayer Chief Executive
  • Business Week Managing Googles Idea Factory
  • Wikipedia Marissa Mayer