Ross Levinsohn: Marissa Mayer needed 'clean slate' at Yahoo

Levinsohn, the Yahoo exec who served as interim CEO after Scott Thompson's departure, tells Bloomberg in a TV interview that Mayer's actions are "so far so good."

Shara Tibken Former managing editor
Shara Tibken was a managing editor at CNET News, overseeing a team covering tech policy, EU tech, mobile and the digital divide. She previously covered mobile as a senior reporter at CNET and also wrote for Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal. Shara is a native Midwesterner who still prefers "pop" over "soda."
Shara Tibken
4 min read
Ross Levinsohn, formerly the interim CEO of Yahoo, speaks during an interview with Bloomberg. Screenshot by Shara Tibken/CNET
Ross Levinsohn, in his first interview since departing Yahoo, told Bloomberg he left the company in part because CEO Marissa Mayer needed a "clean slate" and the ability to choose her own team:

In talking to Marissa I think we agreed that you need a clear path, and I think I was pretty well entrenched with the guard that was there. I felt like it was right for her to have a clean slate going forward and if I stayed it probably wasn't the right thing to do. I took a good run at trying to be CEO and I felt like it was probably the right thing to move on after I didn't get it.

Levinsohn joined Yahoo in late 2010 and ran its media sites for awhile, among other positions at the company. He was appointed interim Yahoo chief executive after Scott Thompson was forced out earlier this year. Some believed Levinsohn would take on top job permanently, but Yahoo instead surprised the market by choosing longtime Google exec, Mayer.

Levinsohn departed Yahoo in July.

During his TV interview with Bloomberg, Levinsohn said that Mayer has "reinvigorated the place" with the changes she has made and the new employees she has hired. He added that the situation is "so far so good" and that she needed to build her own team.

"If Marissa feels like there are people there that will stay that will fit her, whatever the type of culture and team she is building, I hope she keeps them and she has obviously made some moves to bring in people she feels like she can run the company with," he said.

The interview, which was previewed on Bloomberg's Web site, airs today on Bloomberg West at 3 p.m. PT.

Here are some other tidbits from the interview, according to Bloomberg:

On the board's patience and the timeline for Yahoo's turnaround:
"I hope they have patience, because you're probably, two and a half years into a change with a couple fits and starts between Carol, Tim, Scott, me and now Marissa. I think you have to give Marissa and the team that's there the time to finish the job. You can't turn that company or any company of size around in six months or a year."

"Yahoo is a battleship. If you've ever seen a battleship they're gigantic and Yahoo is gigantic in the terms of consumer Internet companies. To turn a battleship takes a long time, but once you turn that battle ship the right way it's a battleship and it can really inflict some damage on an enemy or competition."

On Yahoo's performance over the past few years:
"The people that work there that I spent my time with for the last couple of years who are as good as any company I've ever worked in. They've been beaten up pretty good over the last couple of years and I think you have to look at how they've performed at scale. Very few companies can perform at scale over the course of decades, and Yahoo has done that."

On Yahoo's partnership with Microsoft on search:
"Most people know that there is this partnership between Yahoo and Microsoft on search. The general view has been that the performance has not been as Yahoo expected it to would be. As a result Microsoft has to make some payments to make up the difference."

On whether that partnership will still be in place a year from now:
"I think it will be, absolutely. Microsoft is investing an incredible amount of time, effort, capital and actual cash in making sure that its search business with Bing is one of the best if not the best in the world... The same challenge exits that existed three months ago, in that there is a company in Mountain View that certainly won't stop investing in search. I fully expect them to continue to move their business forward as aggressively if not more aggressively than in the past and again everyone is playing for the mobile search landscape as well. Obviously, Google has a huge head start there or huge position there certainly with devices as well."

On other types of acquisitions Yahoo will be looking at:
"What I've read and what I've heard certainly is a focus on mobile for sure. Probably, "acqui-hires." Google has been amazing at acqui-hiring, buying small companies for the engineers. I think in the competitive market of Silicon Valley it's really a good way to do it. Big acquisitions often don't work out. There have been rare cases, I think if you look at Google you'd say that YouTube has worked and you'd say the DoubleClick has worked, if you look at massive scale acquisitions. Throughout the rest of the industry really, really tough to integrate big companies."

On what he'll do next:
"I think that traditional media companies that all have digital presences now, or traditional consumer products companies or advertising companies or agencies all have their hands in so many things. I'm having a fun time sort of talking a lot to people about that and I'm sure there will be something that I could find my way to, eventually. At least I hope so. My wife wants me out of the house for sure."