How Marissa Mayer created Google’s school for young “superheroes”

When people think about Google’s greatest assets, they usually picture Search, Android, or Gmail — market-leading products that hundreds of millions of people use every day. These are great products, but I believe that Google’s most overlooked “crown jewel” is actually a management training program. Of course, calling Google’s Associate Product Manager (APM) program a training program is a little like calling the Sistine Chapel a ceiling mural. Since its inception, the program’s 500 alumni have become some of the most important and accomplished folks in Silicon Valley, like Jess Lee and Bret Taylor. It’s the high-tech industry’s equivalent of Charles Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters, the alma mater of the X-Men.
 
In this episode of Masters of Scale, I discuss how to build a team of superheroes with Google’s own Charles Xavier (minus the wheelchair and bald pate), Marissa Mayer. Marissa tells her own origin story, including how she intended to delete Google’s recruiting email, and only opened the missive that would change her life because her fingers slipped. After accidentally becoming Google’s first Product Manager, she built the APM program to train talented youngsters, and in the process, changed how Google works.
 
We then discuss Marissa’s controversial tenure as Yahoo’s CEO, and how the company’s prescient (and enormously valuable) investment in Alibaba gave Yahoo the resources to re-invent itself, but eventually became so valuable that tax considerations essentially forced the company to liquidate itself.
 
You’ll also hear about how Marissa decided to work at Google (in part, because she felt unprepared for the job), and how she ended up designating a “Red Tape Machete” to blow up ossified processes at Yahoo. This episode also features a cameo from Karen Kirkland, the leader of the Nickelodeon Writing Program, whose alumni have gone on to work on shows like Blackish, Modern Family, Silicon Valley, and even, appropriately enough, The Flash.