Yahoo’s Mayer defends spending on party, food for employees

Yahoo and Chief Executive Marissa Mayer had a lot to talk about on the company’s fourth-quarter earnings call late Tuesday. Earnings and sales. Job cuts. Alibaba. Restructuring plans. All were topics that came up. And despite everything that Mayer said, about how what the company is doing will eventually make Yahoo stronger and more successful, nothing brought out Mayer’s fire, if you will, like talking about a party.

Specifically, Yahoo’s holiday party, which got a lot of attention online following reports that Yahoo spent $7 million on the shindig held in San Francisco’s Dogpatch area.

After Mayer went over the nuts and bolts about Yahoo’s latest restructuring/turnaround/try-to-keep-the-lights-on plan — which includes cutting 15 percent of its workforce and exploring the wonderful-sounding “strategic alternatives” (which means looking at everything including trying to sell part or all of itself) — Mayer took a couple of minutes to say what she really felt about the brouhaha surrounding not just Yahoo’s party, but how much dough the company has spent on food for employees since she became CEO in 2012.

Mayer said the media had reported “blatant falsehoods about our spending,” and that stories of Yahoo spending $7 million on its party, and $450 million on food in the company’s cafeterias were “exaggerated by a factor of three.”

“We are very thoughtful about how we spend company resources,” Mayer said regarding Yahoo’s corporate checkbook.

If Mayer’s assessment of how much Yahoo spent on its party is correct, that would mean the company still spent more than $2 million on a Roaring ’20s-style bacchanal that was highlighted by Mayer sitting upon what many described as a “throne” behind a velvet-roped-off area where employees and guests could sit near her and pose for some pleasant, if also awkward-looking photos with the CEO. 

Then there’s the matter of Yahoo’s spending on food for its employees. Even at $150 million, that’s a lot of kale and gluten-free options to put on the menu over three years.

Mayer defended Yahoo’s spending on such matters, saying the perks “are in line” with the tech industry. And she does have a point. Companies such as Facebook are famous for things like their generous parental-leave policies and low-or-no-cost to employees insurance premiums. And Yahoo certainly isn’t the only tech company to pull out all the stops to let its employees blow off some steam at the end of the year.

Still, it’s hard to imagine General Motors, Ford and Chrysler battling for assembly-line workers in the ’50s by offering free on-site yoga lessons and self-serve espresso bars. Yahoo may have “only” spent $2 million on its holiday party, but after almost four years of middling performance under Mayer, maybe that money would have been better spent being thrown into a wishing well?


Photo: Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer speaks at the annual TechCrunch Disrupt conference in San Francisco on Sept. 11, 2013. (Dai Sugano/Bay Area News Group)


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