It’s fundamentally really hard to change company culture — but you can enhance its best characteristics.
That’s the advice from Marissa Mayer, the former chief executive of Yahoo, who spoke at an event in London a day after her resignation.
And there are a lot of Silicon Valley firms that could take her comments on board right now.
Mayer took a $23 million (£18 million) payout from Yahoo and announced her resignation on Tuesday as Verizon’s $4.48 billion (£3.5 billion) acquisition of the company closed.
Mayer should know about trying to change company culture, having spent the last five years trying to turn Yahoo from declining web giant to dominant publisher.
Speaking in person at the Accelerate-Her event in London, Mayer said she tried to bring out Yahoo’s most positive elements.
She also said her job as chief executive was to “get out of the way”, and let Yahoo’s teams get on with building products.
Business Insider attended Mayer’s interview at AccelerateHer. Her session was under Chatham House Rule, meaning her comments couldn’t be attributed directly. However, Mayer gave Business Insider permission to report tweets by attendees.
Marissa Mayer: “Am not sure you can change a company’s culture. So I am trying to change it only into the best version of itself”. #FFLondon
— Wolfgang Blau (@wblau) June 14, 2017
— Dale Murray (@DaleJMurray) June 14, 2017
Yahoo and Uber are probably the two most prominent Silicon Valley firms trying to change the way they work right now.
After explosive allegations of a sexist “bro” culture, Uber will cut down the amount of alcohol it provides at company parties, and has banned relationships between employees and managers.
But they’re not the only companies that have had to deal with internal culture problems. Twitter’s culture has been described by insiders as “chaotic”, and Amazon has been described as a tricky place to work. Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos was forced to defend the firm’s culture last year, saying “[we] never claim our approach was the right one.”
Mayer also talked about her time at Google, joking that was looking forward to using Gmail again, adding that she’s faster using tools that she’s designed herself.
In another interesting tidbit, Mayer said she had taken advice from Rachel Whetstone, a communications executive who once worked for Google, and then, controversially, Uber.
Whetstone advised Mayer not to read the press, in case it would distract from the job.
— Andrew Grill (@AndrewGrill) June 14, 2017