Yahoo and Management: Hollywood and Nemi Ships

November 16, 2015

On a trip to Italy, I learned about Caligula’s ships for Lake Nemi. Somehow, despite a crackerjack education at a college in a corn field, I did not know that Benito Mussolini drained the lake and began work to recover the ships. As luck would have it, the fine leader pulled off the salvage operation. One of the interesting discoveries was that Caligula’s architect covered the hull with lead. The idea was that water annoyances would not consume the wood. Not necessary. The lake was did not have shipworms. What happened to the ships? In the World War II spat, the ships burned. Poof. The Nemi ships can be a management inspiration: Grandiose, expensive, useless.

I think about the Roman emperor’s ships when I learn about the antics of Google management meet ups like the one reported in “Google’s Elite Camp Conference Returns to Sicily.” The idea seems to be that an off site training event is conducive to Googley innovation, learning, and management. With training sometimes deductible, depending on the country in which the tax authority resides, these Nemi-esque meets up can also deliver some down time.

I read “Marissa Mayer’s Convoluted Yahoo Strategy: There’s No Place Like Home” this morning (November 16, 2015). The article reports:

Last fall, in one of the stranger and more expensive efforts to boost company morale, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer decided that all her executive staff needed to play dress-up. In an elaborate photo shoot that took place at an offsite at the Cavallo Point Lodge in Marin County, north of San Francisco, she cast all the top staffers as characters from “The Wizard of Oz” and made them pose for a poster in full costume, since it was to be the theme of the upcoming employee holiday party.

When comparing this Wizard of Oz approach, the make believe of over the rainbow struck me as almost prudent. No Italy. No Nemi-style meet up in Sicily.

The write up adds:

One thing is clear: Yahoo’s not in Kansas anymore.

My thought is that fancy parties like those for which the Nemi boats were ideal, meet ups crafted with Google DNA, and play acting are Silicon Valley at its most decisive. As Dorothy said:

“If we walk far enough we shall sometime come to someplace.”

Hopefully that place includes revenue with a side order of healthy profits. Xooglers may think like Google, but Xooglers have to deliver the goods for stakeholders. Should Yahoo be a media company, a search company, or something else entirely. Right now Yahoo may have jumbled the costumes for its Oz thing.

Stephen E Arnold, November 16, 2015


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