"I really like even numbers, and I like heavily divisible numbers. Twelve is my lucky number-I just love how divisible it is. I don't like odd numbers, and I really don't like primes. When I turned 37, I put on a strong face, but I was not looking forward to 37. But 37 turned out to be a pretty amazing year. Especially considering that 36 is divisible by twelve!"
A few things may strike you while listening to Marissa Mayer deliver this riff, prompted by a question about how her life has changed since her son, Macallister, was born last fall. The first is that she's not kidding about being a geek. Mayer talks about numbers as if they were people, refers casually to x- and y-axes, and drops terms like stochastic factor (it means a random distribution) in conversation. On business issues, she speaks awkwardly, piling as many likes into a sentence as Alicia Silverstone in Clueless. But when she gets on to technology, she turns effortlessly articulate.
The next is that she is an unusually stylish geek. The day we had that conversation in her white, glossy, minimally appointed office in Sunnyvale, California, she was wearing a red Michael Kors dress with a gold belt and a brown Oscar de la Renta cardigan. This cashmere bolero is her work uniform-she has the same one in ivory, navy, black, hot pink, teal, red, and royal blue, and adds new colors every season. She was hoarse from a cold she picked up flying to New York and back, and it was eight-thirty in the evening, with hours' more work ahead. But she burbled with excitement as she talked about her job. "I'm having the time of my life," she told me.
It might also strike you that the paradox of being both glamorous and a geek explains Mayer's rapid progress in reviving what only a year ago looked like a moribund giant. Before her arrival in July of last year, Yahoo was being written off by the tech industry, investors, even its own staff. A series of failed CEOs-non-techies from Hollywood, advertising, and finance-had gotten little purchase on the fading technology brand. It was far from clear that a six-months-pregnant, 37-year-old Google engineer and first-time CEO could remove the air of irony that had attached itself to Yahoo's purple exclamation point.
A year later, the punctuation no longer looks so absurd. Adam Cahan, Yahoo's head of mobile and another ex-Googler, told me, "Yahoo has released more products in the last six months than probably in the last five years." But it is the products themselves that represent what he describes as "a dramatic cultural shift." These include a gorgeous new weather app for mobile phones, a relaunch of the photo-sharing site Flickr, and an update of Yahoo Mail, all of which are drawing the first positive reviews the company has seen in ages. By acquiring Tumblr, the hippest of the social-media sites, Mayer solved the problem of Yahoo's aging demographics and lack of cool with a single billion-dollar stroke.
If Yahoo's bottom-line growth is still modest, investors are optimistic: The stock price is up almost 60 percent since Mayer joined. But the most important aspect of the transformation she's leading may be the least tangible. Yahoo, a brand of early adopters before it became one for tech codgers, is returning to its role as a company that matters in Silicon Valley-able to compete for top engineering talent and acquire start-up companies without smothering them. "She is really talented. She is really aggressive," says Henry Blodget, whose Business Insider site is a partner with Yahoo Finance. "She is extremely driven, and that inspires people. Developers are excited about working for a leader like her, someone who says, 'I'm in; who's with me?' And they're excited about working for an underdog."
Read the rest of the article on Marissa Mayer, exclusively at Vogue.com and in the September 2013 issue of Vogue, on newsstands now.