Marissa Mayer: What I Learned From the Grocery Store

Mayer, Yahoo's new CEO, talks about her small-business beginnings.
Business Writers
July 18, 2012

Marissa Mayer, Yahoo's newly-minted CEO, hasn't forgotten the lessons—and rewards—of her first jobs: babysitting and working in a grocery store in Wausau, Wis.

Of working the cash register at the store, she told the Los Angeles Times: "I learned a lot about work ethic from people who had been there for 20 years. They could do 40 items a minute over an eight-hour shift. I was pretty routinely in the 38-to-41 range. I was pretty happy about that. I have a good memory for numbers."

She added: "At the grocery store, you have to remember to charge $4.99 a pound for grapes and 99 cents a pound for cantaloupe by typing in a number code. The more numbers you could memorize, the better off you are. If you had to stop to look up a price in a book, it totally killed your average."

Beginnings in Technology

Mayer, who eventually earned a bachelor's degree in symbolic systems and a master's in computer science, had little experience with computers when she arrived at Stanford.

"The fall of my freshman year I used all the baby-sitting money I had saved to buy my first computer," she told Newsweek in a 2006 interview. "The resident computer consultant helped me unpack my computer, showed me how to boot it up and even taught me how to use the mouse. So, it really was entirely new."

Smarter People

Mayer—the sort of numbers geek who told All Things Digital's Kara Swisher that she was celebrating being a billion seconds old (that's 31.7 years old)—also told the LA Times about her decision-making philosophy.

She said: "I realized in all the cases where I was happy with the decision I made, there were two common threads: Surround myself with the smartest people who challenge you to think about things in new ways, and do something you are not ready to do so you can learn the most." Mayer cited an example of Laura Beekman, the volleyball-playing daughter of her piano teacher, who was given the choice of joining the varsity team, where she would sit on the bench for the year, or junior varsity, where she would start every game. Beekman chose varsity.

Mayer said she asked Beekman:"'How did you know to pick varsity?' Laura told me: 'I just knew if I got to practice and play alongside the best players every day, it would make me better. And that's exactly what happened.' The same thing happens in the professional workplace."

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What did you buy with the earnings from your first job? How has that contributed to your career?

Photo courtesy of Getty Images Entertainment.