Aug 252013

Business Insider’s unathorised biography of Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer is both enlightening and scary while giving some insight into the psyche of the tech industry.

Nicholas Carlson’s story tells the warts and all tale to date of a gifted, focused and difficult to work with lady who’s been given the opportunity to lead one of the Dot Com era’s great successes back into relevance. It’s a very good read.

Two things jump out in the story; Mayer’s desire to surround herself with talented people and her chronic lateness.

When asked why she decided to work at a scrappy startup called Google, which see saw as only having a two percent chance of success, Mayer tells her ‘Laura Beckman story’ of her school friend who chose to spend a season on the bench of her school varsity volleyball team rather than play in the juniors.

Just as Laura became a better volleyball player by training with the best team, Mayer figured she’d learn so much more from the smart folk at Google. It was a bet that paid off spectacularly.

Chronic lateness is something else Mayer picked up from Google. Anyone whose dealt with the company is used to spending time sitting around their funky reception areas or meeting rooms waiting for a way behind schedule Googler.

To be fair to Google, chronic lateness is a trait common in the tech industry – it’s a sector that struggles with the concept of sticking to a schedule.

One of the worst examples I came across was at IBM where I arrived quarter of an hour before a conference was due to start. There was no-one there.

At the appointed time, a couple of people wandered in. Twenty minutes later I was about to leave when the organiser showed up, “no problem – a few people are running late,” he said.

The conference kicked off 45 minutes late to a full room. As people casually strolled in I realised that starting nearly an hour late was normal.

It would drive me nuts. Which is one reason among many that I’ll never get a job working with Marissa Mayer, Google or IBM.

A few weeks ago, I had to explain the chronic lateness of techies to an event organiser who was planning on using a technical speaker for closing keynote.

“Don’t do it,” I begged and went on to describe how they were likely to take 45 minutes to deliver a twenty minute locknote – assuming they showed up on time.

The event organiser decided to look for a motivational speaker instead.

Recently I had exactly this situation with a telco executive who managed to blow through their alloted twenty minutes, a ten minute Q&A and the closing thanks.

After two days the audience was gasping for a beer and keeping them from the bar for nearly an hour past the scheduled finish time on a Friday afternoon was a cruel and unusual punishment.

This was by no means the first time I’d encountered a telco executive running chronically over time having even seen one dragged from the stage by an MC when it became apparent their 15 minute presentation was going to take at least an hour.

It’s something I personally can’t understand as time is our greatest, and most precious, asset and wasting other people’s is a sign of arrogance and disrespect.

Whether Marissa Mayer can deliver returns to Yahoo!’s long suffering investors and board members remains to be seen, one hopes they haven’t set a timetable for those results.

  2 Responses to “On running late”

  1. Its not just tech; I’m running a finance and accounting change programme at the moment, frustrated by late meeting starts, I offered a round of coffee if the n
    meeting ever had full and punctual attendance.

    Guess how many flat whites I’ve bought….

  2. It’s a cultural thing within some companies. I remember the last place I worked, everyone used to be late, every meeting started late, and it was just the way things worked. Then we got a new manager who came FROM tech and was very disciplined and punctual. She couldn’t believe the way things worked in our area. She changed the culture, gradually. By the time I left there we were a much tighter operation and very punctual. She was the one who made me realise the importance of sticking to deadlines and being on time.

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