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Free food and potential acquisitions: Marissa Mayer settles in at Yahoo

Now that she's had a few weeks to get acclimated as the company's CEO, Marissa Meyer is making plans to help Yahoo redefine its identity. But she doesn't want to hear the question, "What is Yahoo?"

By / August 10, 2012

Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer visited two of the company's New York offices on Thursday, sharing her plans for revitalizing Yahoo's culture and making its services more useful for users. In this file photo, Mayer poses at Google's headquarters in Mountain View, California.

Noah Berger/Reuters/File

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When former Google engineer Marissa Mayer became Yahoo's new CEO last month, she tried to keep a low profile at first, sitting out the company's Q2 earnings call and instead working to get "acclimated" to the position.

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Jeff began writing for the Monitor's Horizons blog in 2011, covering product news and rumors, innovations from companies like Apple and Google, and developments in tech policy.

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Now, it seems, the recon period is over -- and Mayer is in full swing.

She visited two of Yahoo's New York offices on Thursday, currying goodwill by declaring that the food in the office cafeterias will be free to employees from now on. (Do we hear echoes of Google culture? Free food, and other measures designed to keep employees happy, have been famously offered there for years.)

Then, of course, Mayer moved on to the important question: how can Yahoo get its mojo back?

The company's New York branches are focused mainly on advertising -- the core of Yahoo's business -- and Mayer reiterated that the company would double down on efforts to improve its ad network. She also mentioned that Yahoo has had trouble figuring out what to do about mobile traffic from smart phones and tablets, since the company's past CEOs hadn't established much of a strategy. Mayer laid out the beginnings of a plan, including having the company develop (or buy) social networks and other platforms that will allow Yahoo to capture more mobile traffic.

Mayer also issued a surprising declaration to employees: she won't be answering the question "What is Yahoo?" anymore, since, she says, it's not the right way to look at the company. Presumably, we industry watchers will have to figure out what's really at Yahoo's core -- advertising? content distribution? email and search? -- by the changes that the company makes under Mayer's direction.

Mayer's retooling of Yahoo didn't end with the New York visits, though. Back in May, the company announced it would pay about $4 billion to shareholders after selling half of its stake in the Chinese web company Alibaba Group. But on Thursday it announced that it might reverse that decision after all -- which could mean that Mayer wants the cash on hand for something else. The Wall Street Journal quotes "people briefed on the matter" as saying that Mayer is willing to spend serious cash to hire new talent and buy new products, and maybe to invest in Yahoo's advertising technology.

Yahoo hasn't committed to the decision one way or another, but as Mayer continues to settle in as CEO, it wouldn't be crazy to expect to see the company making some big acquisitions. In spite of the apparent prohibition on asking directly, we just might get a clearer answer to the question, "What is Yahoo?" after all.

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