Protestors disrupt Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer at Dreamforce '13

Protestors disrupt Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer at Dreamforce '13

Summary: Benioff even rattled off advice, "If you want to protest, first go outside. Also, it's better to split up because then less people get arrested."

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SAN FRANCISCO---It looked like it was going to be another lovefest on the Dreamforce main stage on Tuesday evening.

For an event that is scheduled and scripted down to the letter, Salesforce.com experienced a noticeable disruption when CEO Marc Benioff interviewed Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer today.

No, Salesforce's cloud didn't go down. (Although the Wi-Fi wasn't performing at its peak.)

The event got going with Benioff mostly showering praise on Mayer's tenure to-date as chief of the once beleaguered search engine. 

Reflecting that he first met Mayer when she worked for "another company" that he couldn't remember the name of, Benioff particularly credited Mayer's gift for "simplicity," hinting that has been key to Yahoo's dramatic turnaround.

Mayer thanked him, acknowledging that she doesn't actually play as much of a role in the design specifics as one might assume.

"You don't get to design the products, but you can design the organization," Mayer remarked.

But Mayer's appearance at Dreamforce wasn't all smooth sailing.

For starters, Mayer was more than 30 minutes late to the keynote stage at Moscone Center, implicitly forcing Benioff to stall and fill time with customer stories.

"You don't get to design the products, but you can design the organization," Mayer remarked.

Then about 10 minutes into the discussion, a group of high-pitched voices started yelling and chanting loudly from the back of the cavernous expo hall. Given that the messages the protesters were uttering were somewhat incoherent, it was difficult to determine who or what the protestors were targeting.

Earlier in the day, there was a small group of a few dozen protestors around Moscone Center, vocalizing opposition to the appearance of Sean Penn and Haitian Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe during the morning keynote session. The two were on-hand to describe how the Salesforce Foundation has contributed to relief efforts in Haiti since the 2010 earthquake in the Caribbean nation.

Nevertheless, both Mayer and Benioff looked flustered. Benioff, who typically demonstrates a natural talent for improv, took a few seconds to gather his thoughts, finally joking that everything was fine and he was sending Salesforce's "general counsel" over. 

Security guards escorted them out instead.

While the conversation shifted back to the elements of design and the mobile-first approach at Yahoo, the incident hung over the rest of the interview like the clouds in the rainy San Francisco sky outside.

At one point while describing her responsibilities lie more on the business rather than design side, Mayer shared that she, like Benioff, did not go to business school.

"I don't want any more protests on business school," Benioff quipped as the audience responded with laughter.

Benioff even rattled off advice, "If you want to protest, first go outside. Also, it's better to split up because then less people get arrested."

Yet even following his comments, loud cries could be heard just outside the keynote hall doors.

Topics: Cloud, Mobility, Salesforce.com, Enterprise 2.0, Social Enterprise

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28 comments
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  • I'd have loved to be there to protest

    I'm guessing the protests are because Mayer has destroyed Yahoo's core product.
    I, like millions of others, are abandoning Yahoo, despite the disruption that entails. A company that deliberately and systematically guts what was once the most functional and reliable email service for both business and personal use--and then in its arrogance stubbornly insists it knows better than its customers--deserves to fail. (Oh, and by the way, the email to a client that my sent folder shows went out at 9:24 a.m. still hasn't arrived. Not only did Yahoo remove essential multitasking features like tabs, it can't even figure out basic delivery.)
    Cindy Sherwood
    • Protest was to do with WalMart

      Actually, the protest had to do with her being a board member at WalMart. I was at the conference. They were chanting something about WalMart and Marissa.
      plhoward
      • Yeh, Yahoo Mail has

        gone from premium webmail to Walmart grade webmail.
        Thanks Marissa!
        warboat
      • Thanks for filling in the massive journalistic void

        Seems like it would have been pretty easy for someone to get that key detail for this story. Thanks for filling it in for us and ZDNet.
        ejhonda
        • That's assuming...

          That's assuming that the author doesn't "phone it in", as is so often the case with many of the articles here.
          omb00900@...
    • Cindy Sherwood Yahoo

      Sorry your wrong, think your just on a negative thread. Google and Hotmail have all made changes to their email platforms. Evolution is sometimes a struggle, I get comfortable with my daily email routine. The email has been changed at Yahoo to accommodate mobile functions. Get over it. I can connect in every country I travel to including China and Korea. Is it to the smoothness of Google no, not yet however it is smoother in China than Google for sure. I never bought into new Outlook but I don't buy Windows 8 either. I am an ex Apple client who just loves Samsung. Sure it will change in the next ten years, what doesn't. Sitting in London this morning I think Marissa is on the right track.
      Transpar
      • Huh?

        Evolution in IT is not usually a struggle unless you lose functionality. I'm not seeing any enhanced mobile functions. Theme changes and conversations are not really enhancements to me. You have to change an email program to look at emails in foreign countries? Why did it take until 2013 for that to happen? You didn't buy into Outlook yet Cindy is on a negative thread for not buying into Yahoo.
        Turd Furgeson
        • There is always a struggle in IT evolution

          And there is always "lost" functionality, as the basic ideas on what we're doing are actually changed, so that real improvements to the whole process can be accomplished. As a web developer, I do this regularly, and moving people from paper to web is difficult, because the paper process seems so easy to the people doing it, but really, it isn't so easy overall. It is more difficult to find things in a file cabinet of papers than a quick search online.
          grayknight
          • But that is not lost functionality

            That is enhanced or transformed functionality. You haven't lost the ability to find files. What Yahoo has basically done is say you can't keep 3 files on your desk anymore.
            Turd Furgeson
      • Yes, I'm negative about Yahoo

        Transpar, I'm glad the new Yahoo is working for you. For many serious users who used Yahoo for business--many of them paying and who are extremely heavy users--the changes have been disastrous, and thus we're being forced to migrate to different services, at a considerable cost in time and lost productivity. In my business, I can't afford to wonder whether an email has arrived or not. The loss of reliability has been extreme, and Yahoo continues to downplay the issues. (BTW, it's "you're" not "your" as you used it--always more difficult to use correct spelling/grammar on a mobile device. Yep, me being negative again.)
        Cindy Sherwood
      • Mobile is no excuse

        There's no reason to cripple the desktop experience just to support mobile. Of course, gmail keeps getting worse too. It's depressing.
        Badge3832
      • Sorry

        But I cannot agree with you. This evolution has actually degraded service. As for content it's portal is looking more like Fox News then just a news portal. Ad to that shoddy articles where they tell you to watch a video and then forget to post it? The user base is going to be shrinking if basic capabilities can't be maintained.
        fldbryan@...
    • Once Beleaguered and Dramatic Turnaround

      What has she actually accomplished other than cutting some products, releasing a dismal logo redesign, and reducing the workforce? She keeps getting rock star status and they keep showing pretty photos, but they haven't been able to show anything that she has actually improved. The stock price appears to be up, but that may be little proof things are actually improving. I remember a "focus on mobile" which appeared to be a late-to-the-party attempt to preserve their Yahoo mail customers as much as possible. Other than that, it seems to be all smoke so far.
      WebSiteManager
  • Yahoo is going to bankruptcy within two years

    The latest changes in yahoo mail, is absurd and it does show how badly the CEO performs. Recent yahoo mail is a complete non-sense upgrade. They have removed tabs in what ground?
    xxxrocky23
    • Not sure about 2 or the bankruptcy

      But I agree that they are not in a good position, recent changes can help them reducing costs, increase productivity, ... but the core problem remains - people don't care for yahoo, competition is strong and I dare to say a lot better.
      AleMartin
      • Yahoo is not just circling the bowl anymore.....

        ... they have cleared the trap and are heading for the septic system, which is already filled to overflowing.
        thetwonkey
  • Yahoo whiners, stop your crying

    I have come back to Yahoo! because of the turnaround. Yahoo! is so much better now that Marissa Mayer is at the helm. The protesters were there because Marissa Mayer is on Walmart's board of directors.
    TenaciousTanaka
    • Yahoo Mail is just average now

      used to be awesome with the folders and tabs.
      now folder handling is tedious. drag and drop gone.
      If I wanted average I could have just used my Google mail.
      If they keep it like this, I see no benefit in using Yahoo Mail.
      Yahoo webmail also has rendering problems on lots of browsers.
      It always did, but it was special and I put up with it the disturbances.
      Now, folders don't render on some browsers in desktop mode (Opera Mobile) and hitting the inbox refresh doesn't always get your new mail so you have to reload the whole page to get a refresh.
      Yahoo is now rubbish webmail and those who think we are whinging have no farkin idea how much better it used to be.
      warboat
      • OK,

        I agree that getting rid of tabs was a bad move. But drag and drop gone? Really? I just dragged a number of emails into a folder. Drag and drop. Click on "Folders" to see your folders and then drag your emails and drop them on the desired folder.
        benched42
    • What turnaround?

      Decreased revenue and increased expenses constitutes a turnaround. By the way, name calling is the last refuge of the out-argued. If you don't believe me then Yahoo it.
      Turd Furgeson