Yahoo's Mayer fields tough questions at Disrupt

Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer found herself parrying a barrage of tough questions from TechCrunch founder Michael Arrington at the news blog’s annual Disrupt conference on Wednesday, which began with Arrington ridiculing the company’s recently revamped logo and ended with him pressing her on whether Google’s Larry Page or Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg is smarter.

Mayer gamely defended the new Yahoo logo, and even autographed a copy of Vogue magazine for Arrington, while taking the opportunity to explain that the magazine photo of her lying upsde down on a reclining chair was the result of a photographer’s request for her to illustrate that she’s an unconventional leader.

Early in the 30-minute conversation, Arrington  also challenged Mayer on whether she could take any credit for the company’s recent stock surge. Mayer acknowledged the stock has benefited from decisions by her predecessors, including Yahoo cofounder Jerry Yang, to invest in the high-flying Chinese e-commerce company Alibaba.

“It’s going to take multiple years,” she said, for Yahoo to move “in the direction and grow at the rate we want.” But she added that she believes Yahoo’s advertising revenue will grow as a result of her efforts to build more traffic by improving the company’s products. Yahoo has already increased its worldwide audience to 800 million users, she said, which amounts to a 15 percent increase over the last year.

Arrington also pressed Mayer on Yahoo’s response to recently disclosed government surveillance programs. Mayer said she was proud of Yahoo’s 2007 effort to fight a legal battle over government demands for user data, before she joined the company, but she added, “when you lose and you don’t comply, it’s treason.”

Mayer seemed to enjoy most of the cross-examination, keeping her poise even  when Arrington asked her to compare  Page and Zuckerberg. Page’s strength is “challenging the status quo,” while Zuckerberg is “incredibly insightful” into people, Mayer said.

But she seemed a little stumped when Arrington asked her own strength, although she finally rallied by saying she has empathy.

(Marissa Mayer photo by Dai Sugano/Mercury News)

Brandon Bailey Brandon Bailey (350 Posts)

Brandon Bailey covers Google, Facebook and Yahoo for the San Jose Mercury News, reporting on the business and culture of the Internet.