Yahoo electrified Silicon Valley and its own 12,000-strong workforce last night by poaching Marissa Mayer, one of the earliest and most famous employees of its arch-rival Google, to be the company's new chief executive.
Ms Mayer was the 20th person ever hired by Google, and in 13 years at the company she has been responsible for guarding the look and feel of all the search engine's consumer products, from the crisp home page, to Gmail, to the Google book scanning project. Most recently she has been running Google Maps and the company's services for finding information about local businesses.
Her defection was all the more stunning because the top job at Yahoo was seen as perhaps the most poisonous chalice in tech. Although Yahoo is still used in some form by 700 million people every month, it has struggled to find a new role in an age of social media, and instead has become synonymous in Silicon Valley with management turmoil, strategic drift and product disappointment.
By overlooking the current interim chief executive, Ross Levinsohn, a media industry executive whose background includes stints at Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation, the Yahoo board intended to signal the company can still be a technology pioneer – and can still be a desirable place for talented engineers to work.
Indeed, announcing the appointment, Yahoo said it "signals a renewed focus on product innovation to drive user experience and advertising revenue".
Ms Mayer, 37, is a Stanford University computer science graduate who insisted at Google that its products should be designed to give the impression that no humans are involved. After founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, and chairman Eric Schmidt, Ms Mayer was one of the most recognisable faces of Google.
She resigned from her job last night and will begin work at Yahoo this morning, on the day of its latest quarterly results. Yahoo shares spiked 2 per cent higher in after-hours trading.
Mr Levinsohn was put in charge in May in place of Scott Thompson, who resigned when it was revealed he had embellished his CV with a computer science degree he never gained. Mr Thompson had been at the helm less than six months; his predecessor, Carol Bartz, was sacked last September after failing to revitalise Yahoo in three years in charge. Ben Schachter, analyst at Macquarie Securities, said Ms Mayer would be given time to establish herself in her new job, but that there would also be doubters who question whether Yahoo needs someone with executive experience and not just engineering chops. "She needs to establish herself as someone for a vision for this company and the ability to executive against that vision," he told Bloomberg TV. "That's what this company has been lacking for some time now."