Sun Valley: Where the World Is

Marissa Mayer practically sprinted away from photographers Friday at the Allen & Co. annual media and technology conference.

Flanked by a security guard, the Yahoo chief refused to acknowledge calls for her to turn around, depriving shutterbugs of a coveted shot.

That’s because Mayer has been a Garbo-esque presence at the Sun Valley, Idaho, confab, all the more potent for remaining largely unseen. Her every move has been much speculated about, as she struggles to chart a new course for an Internet pioneer that has gone off track.

Oh how tongues have wagged. Mayer was spotted chatting up Hiroshi Mikitani, head of Japanese e-commerce company Rakuten, according to the New York Times. She was also seen chatting late into the night with AOL CEO Tim Armstrong at the Sun Valley resort’s Duchin bar, the watering hole where she has taken most of her meetings, away from prying cameras.

There’s a reason Mayer, a former Google rock star tasked with reinventing the Internet portal after being hired away in 2012, may be feeling the heat.

“Yahoo is a brand that has been tarnished and has chewed up and spit out a succession of high-profile CEOs long before Marissa joined the company,” said Rebecca Lieb, an analyst at Altimeter Group. “It was one of the Internet’s first real success stories, but that was long ago and far away when gauged in Internet time.”

The company has tried to acquire the next hot thing, buying such high-profile brands as Tumblr and Flickr, but its fortunes have yet to change and it has been unable to compete with Google and other Internet rivals.

“It’s suffered a brain drain, an advertising drain and an innovation drain,” Lieb added. “It’s suffering from an identity crisis.”

Mayer has attempted to refashion Yahoo as a content hub, hiring the likes of tech blogger David Pogue, former Elle creative director Joe Zee, ex-New York Times political ace Matt Bai and Katie Couric. It will soon have more money to play with, through its investment in Alibaba Group. The Chinese e-commerce giant is about to go public and could net Yahoo an estimated $9 billion in cash.

“Key on investors minds will be how management chooses to allocate that capital between a share-repurchase and an acquisition,” Victor Anthony, an analyst with Topeka Capital Markets, wrote in a note to investors. “A mobile ad network, Vevo, Hulu, and Spotify could potentially help accelerate core growth or expand into a new growth category.”

All eyes are on Mayer, but at Sun Valley, it’s a case of blink and you miss her.

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