Marissa Mayer announced June 17, 2012, her first day as CEO of Yahoo, that she was expecting a baby boy.
It was surprising news from the person hired to do what four previous CEOs, over five years, hadn't managed to accomplish. But those who flinched at the news weren't Silicon Valley insiders.
Mayer is, by all accounts, brilliant. She earned degrees with honors in symbolic systems and computer science from Stanford University and afterward became employee #20 at Google, where for a dozen years she oversaw "search."
She also treats work like a competitive sport.
"New people who join [Google] think Google just happened," Mayer told an interviewer in 2011 who asked how much luck has to do with success. "Google was blood, sweat and tears. It was 130-hour weeks. It's possible when you sleep under the desk and don't shower. It was a huge amount of work."
New York Magazine, in a profile timed to publish around the birth of Mayer's son, reported that Mayer worked 250 all-nighters in her first five years at Google and quoted a former colleague who insisted, "She will outwork you. She will outwork anybody."
Mayer is also young (38), attractive and blond, with a taste for couture, a handsome, venture-capitalist husband and a 38th-floor penthouse apartment in San Francisco's Four Seasons hotel (her second home) that's filled with original art by the sculptor Dale Chihuly.
During her time at Google, all of this worked to make her a Silicon Valley celebrity (Vogue gave a page to her 2009 wedding, which The Killers played at). But it was the paired details of her pregnancy and her CEO appointment that propelled her into the national spotlight. And, months later, it was her decision to end work-from-home arrangements at Yahoo—a very anti-family, non-mom-like decision to the minds of many—that turned Marissa Mayer into a household name.
The world is now interested in Mayer and, by extension—though to a lesser degree—Yahoo, which may be her first major accomplishment as CEO.
"Is the Marissa Mayer brand mixed with the Yahoo brand right now? Maybe, but it doesn't matter. The fact that it's working is the thing," said Roger Kay, principal analyst with Endpoint Technologies. "Very few companies have a face. It's really hard to do. Who's the face of Samsung? Who's the face of Lenovo?"
Mayer likes to describe herself as "an engineer " and "a geek"—and still she showed up to the New York Magazine photo shoot with the just-in-case option of her own Alexander McQueen gown.