Marc Andreessen on Marissa Mayer’s New Job: She’s Facing a “Big Challenge”

Marc Andreessen knows a thing or two about public technology companies, from cofounding Netscape to his present day role as a board member at Facebook, eBay, and Hewlett Packard, among other companies. And speaking today at Fortune’s Brainstorm Tech conference in Aspen, he called the task of Marissa Mayer, the newly appointed CEO of Yahoo, a “big challenge.”

Asked by Fortune’s managing director Andy Serwer what Mayer should pursue on behalf of Yahoo in order to turn around the ailing company, Andreessen suggested the industry “give Marissa a bit of time to think about that maybe,” though he added that he was “super happy” for her.

More, he applauded Yahoo’s decision to move in a “product centric” direction. Said Andreessen, “I’m a big fan of Ross Levinsohn,” Yahoo’s interim CEO and the person who was widely expected to become Yahoo’s third CEO in recent years. “And [I] think he’ll do well wherever he goes.” But Mayer’s selection indicates that Yahoo plans to focus less on sales and more on product innovation, observed Andreessen.

Andreessen also seemed to suggest that the industry be realistic in its expectations of Mayer. “On the one hand,” he noted, “there have been very few Web turnarounds.” On the other, he said, “it’s hard to overestimate how screwed Apple was in 1997” when cofounder Steve Jobs returned to the company as its interim, then full-time, CEO. It’s proof “that companies can be turned around spectacularly,” said Andreessen. “The problem is there aren’t a lot of Steve Jobs characters running around.”

News of Mayer’s appointment was broken earlier today by Dealbook, which noted that her departure from Google after so many years (she was its first first female employee) was probably the least surprising element of her leap to Yahoo. Reported Dealbook: “After years of heading-up its search business, Google’s most profitable unit, Ms. Mayer became vice president of the company’s local efforts in late 2010. The following year, Google promoted another executive, Jeff Huber, to be the senior vice president of local and commerce, putting him one level above Ms. Mayer’s post. Although Google characterized her move as a promotion at the time, some wondered if she would be content with the reorganization.”

There’s little question that Mayer, who is often portrayed as among the smartest and hardest-charging women in the tech industry, has her work cut out for her. Beginning tomorrow, she begins work as Yahoo’s third CEO in three years. After cofounder Jerry Yang resigned the post under pressure in 2009, the job was given to former Autodesk CEO Carol Bartz, who was unceremoniously fired in a phone call. Tim Morse, the company’s CFO, stepped into the role on an interim basis until Yahoo’s board settled on former PayPal president Scott Thompson. Thompson was fired in May after it was discovered that he’d embellished his college degree on his resume.

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