While the news of Yahoo's sale to Verizon for $4.83 billion goes viral - and friends and colleagues check on me to know my reaction - the truth is that I am still shocked. There are five stages of grief, they say: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. As a former Yahoo India employee who moved on with a heavy heart just a year back, I guess I still haven’t reached ‘acceptance’ yet.
All those wonderful memories are now coming in torrents. I sense a faint smile breaking across my lips as I recollect the team’s incredible talent and diversity, iconoclastic humour, quirky creativity, and the absolute sense of ownership with which we all walked on those spectacular Yahoo India premises, as if we were special forces on a secret mission.
Yahoo's decline is well-documented, and may continue to be a pet subject of research for case studies. I don’t intend to dwell on that. That’s not how I will remember it. It’s like remembering your favourite sports team: you instinctively reminisce about the days of glory than the moments of despair. To its credit, Yahoo as an employer went a step further, making its employees feel like sports stars. And I was fortunate to work with one helluva team there!
It was a healthy, competitive, but collaborative culture where you learnt from your colleagues, and then tried to come up with something a notch higher. The knowledge-sharing was liberal, each one quite confident of her/ his own craft, whether in design, editorial, technology or data crunching. We broke down silos and sharpened our individual skills much more during our meeting-room huddles, than at any other place. As an individual, you felt like an artist, scientist or an explorer in whatever role you played, believing you were making a difference in this ever-evolving digital world. As a team-player, working across groups and departments was not only encouraged, but also appreciated and recognised at appraisal time.
The targets were stiff, the hierarchy almost flat, the bosses benevolent but demanding, and the process of meeting their expectations was – in one word – exhilarating. Imagine feeling like Virat Kohli chasing down 400+ scores in every match you played. No wonder, Yahoos returning to the company multiple times over their careers was more of a norm than exception. And yes, there was that other major factor.
The physical work place itself, that resembled a trendy college campus: with colourful vibrant interiors, ergonomically-designed chairs, cushy sofas, bean bags and La-Z-Boy-kind recliners, top-end gadgets and laptops to work with; multiple ‘break-out’ areas on every floor with foosball and table tennis tables; stocks of (hold your breath - ALL FOR FREE!) salty-spicy savories, biscuits and cookies, fresh fruits, cola and coffee vending machines, multiple counters for food; subsidized tuck shops serving snacks, shakes and juices, a swag store selling stylish Yahoo merchandise, a gym with shower facilities, even a clean dorm to catch a quick nap if you were working late into the night (separate for men and women), pick-up and drop buses and cabs for the entire staff, a library, a tie-up with one of India's finest B-Schools for career advancement, a pack of goodies for your pets and new-borns. These are the few of my favourite things — and I am not even counting the usual perks that most other organizations offer.
I have often heard cynical voices dismissing these thoughtful gestures as indulgences, with remarks such as, "Oh, now we know where Yahoo lost its plot!”
It is easy to slam a fading star with the advantage of hindsight. A fair assessment will reveal that it was more than the HR policies that dented the company’s fortunes. On the contrary, it is admirable that Yahoo continued to care about its existing employees even during its downslide. (Though I must unequivocally admit that I would any day prefer that my sacked colleagues retained their jobs; than me working with the absolutely best-in-business equipment.)
As employees who enjoyed creative freedom, respect for our individualities, and (the often-elusive) 'work-life balance', we can only look back at our Yahoo years with gratitude.
I am often asked, "How was it working for Yahoo India?" So, that's how it was. Heady one day, depressing the other, if you followed the company's developments and stock prices closely. What was once a Hans Christian Andersen fairytale transformed into a Shakespearean tragedy right before our eyes. Was the roller coaster worth the ride? Definitely! And we all jumped on it with a smile and a swagger, a signature characteristic of Yahoo's DNA.
We called it: 'Bleeding Purple'.
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