Look back at Marissa Mayer’s 2011 Los Angeles Times interview

Although Yahoo named Marissa Mayer as its next chief executive Monday afternoon, not many people know her -- her name was never mentioned during the company’s CEO hiring process.

But in early 2011, Mayer sat down with the Los Angeles Times for a piece on how she had found her success, revealing the personal side of one of Google’s most influential executives.

In the piece, Mayer, who has been in charge of Google’s geographic and local services, said that in 1999, she came to be Google’s first female engineer and its 20th employee only after rolling the dice.

She became a computer engineer after going to Stanford University for her bachelor’s degree in symbolic systems and her master’s in computer science.


But despite describing herself as a geek first and foremost, she also said she makes sure to include time for her other interests. Mayer runs every day -- as of last year, anyway -- has climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro, is a ballet enthusiast and once paid $60,000 for a lunch with Oscar de la Renta.

“I didn’t want to lose my sense of myself in my profession. I like art, dance, clothes, travel. So I made a conscious effort to embrace it all,” she said at the time. “Our country in particular — and the whole world — has a real challenge in bringing more women into engineering and technical fields. It’s good to show that you don’t need to sacrifice your sense of femininity because you are engineer.”

Mayer also revealed that much of her work ethic came from her time as a grocery clerk when she was in high school. At that job, she said, she learned from others who had been working there for 20 years and could check out 40 items a minute.

“At the grocery store, you have to remember to charge $4.99 a pound for grapes and 99 cents a pound for cantaloupe by typing in a number code,” said Mayer, who said she averaged between 38 to 41 items a minute. “The more numbers you could memorize, the better off you are. If you had to stop to look up a price in a book, it totally killed your average.”

Mayer also shared her career philosophy, which may explain why she is choosing to start Tuesday as the CEO of the floundering Yahoo -- whose demise can very much be attributed to the rise of Google, where every product had to receive Mayer’s approval before rolling out.

“I realized in all the cases where I was happy with the decision I made, there were two common threads: Surround myself with the smartest people who challenge you to think about things in new ways, and do something you are not ready to do so you can learn the most,” she said.

Mayer recalled how her piano teacher’s daughter, Laura Beckman, a volleyball player, chose to ride the varsity team’s bench all through her junior year rather than be a starter on the junior varsity team. The decision paid off the next year, when she became a varsity starter while her peers who had started for the J.V. team spent their senior year on the varsity bench.

“I asked Laura: ‘How did you know to pick varsity?’ Laura told me: ‘I just knew if I got to practice and play alongside the best players every day, it would make me better. And that’s exactly what happened,’” Mayer said. “The same thing happens in the professional workplace. I had this feeling that I was going to learn so much more inside of Google.”


Now it’s time Mayer’s turn to be a starter.


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