Marissa Mayer becomes a lightning rod for Walmart critics

“…Ms Mayer’s appointment to the chief executive role at Yahoo has made her a new lightning rod for criticism of Walmart.”Financial Times

“It’s times like these when you have to wonder if the distraction of being on Wal-Mart’s board is worth it for Mayer and Yahoo.”Business Insider

“I have to ask you: are you going to bring Yahoo values to Walmart, or Walmart values to Yahoo?” (Walmart associate Marie Roberty to Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer at Yahoo’s Annual Shareholder meeting June 25)MSNBC

When then-Google Vice President Marissa Mayer agreed to take the CEO spot at Yahoo! back in July 2012 Pando Daily’s Sarah Lacy wondered,“Why on earth did Marissa say yes?” At the time, Yahoo! looked like a company beyond saving, and it is by no means out of the woods today.

An equally interesting question is why Mayer said yes to Walmart when the company asked her to join its Board of Directors a few months earlier.

It’s easy to understand why Walmart wanted Mayer. Suffering from chronic image problems, class action discrimination lawsuits over alleged gender discrimination, and repeated failures in the eCommerce arena, Walmart spied a chance to kill a few birds with one stone. Mayer, the dynamic, youthful, female technologist could help them spruce up their image – and she could also take over the Board’s eCommerce portfolio from long-serving and soon-to-retire Director Jim Breyer, a Silicon Valley investing giant.

Although it’s difficult to see now, Walmart may have looked pretty good to Mayer at the time. After a dozen years at Google, the Vice President of Maps and Location Services appeared to have hit a plateau career-wise despite having made key contributions to the company’s astronomical success. If she wanted to experience life in the CEO suite she was going to have to look elsewhere.

Perhaps Mayer thought that a stint on Walmart’s board would help to propel her into a CEO spot worthy of her talents – especially if she could actually help the giant retailer turn around its eCommerce mess. So she said yes.

Mayer probably wasn’t expecting what came next.

Less than a week after Walmart announced her nomination on April 16, 2012, The New York Times broke a story that implicated key Walmart executives in a massive bribery scandal in Mexico.

Then, she began to get invitations and visits from members of OUR Walmart, an organization of Walmart associates calling for better wages and working conditions. And, on June 1, at Mayer’s first Annual Meeting, OUR Walmart members  stole the show with their complaints about out-of-whack CEO pay and illegal retaliation against outspoken workers . In November, Black Friday strikes and protests took place at more than 1,000 stores.

Walmart’s reputational problems turned tragic when the Tazreen factory fire and the Rana Plaza collapse killed more than 1200 workers at spectacularly unsafe Bangladeshi garment factories that had been suppliers to Walmart.

Mayer is also beginning to feel some real heat over Walmart’s labor relations and supply chain practices. Walmart associates and advocates for Bangladeshi factory workers have shown up at Mayer’s homes and her Yahoo! office, and even at the Yahoo! shareholder meeting, asking her to address their concerns.

Fixing Yahoo! is clearly more than a full-time job for Marissa Mayer.  As Nicholas Carlson blogged after the shareholder meeting, “… you have to wonder if the distraction of being on Wal-Mart’s board is worth it for Mayer and Yahoo.”

What do you think?