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Yahoo! Finds Its Unicorn in New CEO Pick Marissa Mayer

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It takes a lot to truly pull off a surprise these days, but doggone it, Yahoo! (YHOO) has done just that. By convincing 37-year-old Marissa Mayer to leave her well-feathered perch at Google (GOOG) to take the reins as president and CEO, the company not only stunned the highly cross-pollinated corp of Silicon Valley, but left Wall Street nearly speechless. In short: nobody saw this coming. And even when it was announced, disbelief was the primary reaction. As the saying goes, "No Way!" quickly became "Way!"

"Why on earth would she do it?" countless pundits proclaimed, still in a fog from being blindsided by the news. As one blogger noted, if nothing else, it will be fun to observe "the cultural fit between the ultra-efficient Mayer and the Internet's chaotic purple dinosaur."

As my co-host Jeff Macke and I discuss in the attached video, Yahoo! was able to find its unicorn CEO in Mayer, when most thought they didn't exist.

"You needed someone just spectacular on the resume front with huge experience," Macke says. "She's that. She's the right person for the job. Whether or not she can do it, I don't know. But she certainly has the skill set."

To revive Yahoo!, Mayer will need to orchestrate a turnaround — the likes of which very few have ever achieved. The only question mark on her otherwise sterling, and presumably well-vetted, resume is the fact that she has never been a CEO. As those before her have tried, the challenge will be to strike the right balance between product and content in order to drive top-line growth again — and here, the path will surely be more social and more mobile than ever before.

If she is able to pull it off, the next Yahoo! — the new Yahoo! — will be an equally big surprise too. Getting there will require someone who is willing to take risks and try new things, who is unafraid to branch away from the desktop driven news and email system that has made Yahoo.com the number one web portal since its debut 17 years ago.

Yes folks, the upside is huge and the downside is scant. To swing and miss will be as easy for Mayer as saying the problems were too big once she got a closer look. But to succeed — to strategically acquire and divest; to create a platform and experience that users love and advertisers crave; to take a 700-million user base to the next level, in ways never seen before — that will be nothing short of thrilling.

There will be a brief honeymoon period while the expectant mother-to-be gets acclimated to her new job. But with 75% of the board on the job less than a year and an increasingly active shareholder base, the demand for results and change will not be kept at bay for long.

Obviously, we will be along for the ride too (assuming they'll have us) and are as excited as everyone else to see what the new chief has in store to turn the chaotic purple dinosaur into something more "innovative and delightful."

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