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Marissa Mayer says she joined Google because she was on a "quest to find, and be surrounded by, smart people" and had determined that she would learn the most there even if the company flopped. She's brought a similar contagious enthusiasm to Yahoo, using a focus on quality -- plus plenty of perks -- to get employees excited and to attract top talent. "If she hadn't come in, all the smart people would have left. And that would have been the end of Yahoo," one Yahoo insider says.

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