SAN FRANCISCO — It faces possibly the biggest crisis in its 21-year history, but for one night Yahoo celebrated as if it were the Roaring Twenties.
The troubled Internet company marked the holidays with a Great Gatsby-themed party to celebrate its 20th birthday here earlier this month. In swanky, spacious digs along the water, revelers dressed as flap dancers enjoyed food, booze and a cover band in a speakeasy motif, according to a guest who attended. Cost of the gala: About $2 million.
The extravagance of some tech companies during the holidays and their decision to emulate the world of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby is brimming with irony. Jay Gatsby and his friends luxuriated in an opulent lifestyle shortly before the Great Depression.
Many in the tech industry are bracing for what they fear could be a major correction. In fact, many are partying like it’s 1999 — coincidentally the year before a dot-com crash took out hundreds of start-ups.
High-flying Facebook hit on the same theme, with a 1920s-era casino room and golden palm trees, according to a report in Business Insider. Google employees celebrated at a James Bond-themed party, replete with Aston Martin outside, according to the Silicon Valley Business Journal.
Facebook and Google did not reply to e-mail messages for comment.
The parallel to the pre-bust years hasn’t been lost on angry Yahoo shareholders such as Eric Jackson, who scorched Mayer & Co. in a 99-page presentation to the company’s board of directors, calling for the ouster of CEO Marissa Mayer and a massive reorganization. In his presentation, he claims the Gatsby-themed party at Pier 48 — which he says cost $7 million — is indicative of profligate spending by a company that is being clobbered by Facebook and Google.
Two people knowledgeable about the Yahoo party, who asked not to be named because they were not authorized to speak on the matter, said it cost closer to $2 million and was intended as a holiday celebration for all Yahoo employees instead of multiple parties. They said Yahoo chose to have one big event as part of a push to reduce its holiday party budget by about 30% from a year ago.
One person drawing attention at this year’s parties: Yahoo CEO Mayer, under pressure to revamp the company’s corporate strategy, and the very public face of the Internet company’s attempt at a turnaround. At Yahoo’s more modest party held for reporters, Mayer was one of the last to leave.
LAVISH PARTIES ABOUND
Bubble? What bubble?
The threat of a bursting bubble hasn’t dampened the enthusiasm of tech start-ups and behemoths, if their holiday parties are any indication. Expensive wines are flowing, and high-end hors d’oeuvres are on the menu. Indeed, tech companies typically throw lavish parties as one of the perks to retain employees and recruit others.
“There has been a boom in holiday parties across the board the past few years after many had scaled back following the recession,” says KT Thompson, area director of catering in Chicago for Kimpton, the largest hotel boutique company in the U.S. “It’s not just tech. It’s consulting, construction and engineering.”
Many tech companies also host press parties in Silicon Valley, New York and all points in between. There, executives mix with the fourth estate and informally offer a barometer of the year and what’s to come. Larger, more extravagant private holiday parties for employees are held separately.
“After three years of working hard with our heads down, we decided to host our first press event,” says Jerry Hum, CEO of Touch of Modern, a shopping web site of unique, high-end items. “It was time celebrate and showcase some of our listed products.”
Several were on display at the Hotel Phoenix here — including the $2,000 Silver Phantom, the most-powerful BlueTooth speaker in the world, and a remote-controlled version of the Dark Knight car, Tumbler. A watch case, filled with pieces worth an estimated $500,000, was closely guarded.
Guests at the mid-November soiree were treated to filet mignon beef jerky, vaporized martinis (“vaportini”), Tequila shot cups made of salt and whiskey bullets that chill drinks.
Parties in Silicon Valley this year are exultant, with barely a tinge of trepidation that the good times may soon end..
Mobile advertising agency AppLovin, based in Palo Alto, Calif., flew its nearly 100 employees to Las Vegas for a paid weekend of free spa sessions, shows (Britney Spears, David Copperfield, Cirque Du Soleil) and other goodies, including a penthouse party suite at the MGM Grand.
Not every gathering was ostentatious.
In lower Manhattan earlier this month, Intel party-goers were treated to carving stations and a fully-stocked bar. Personal computers, laptops and tablets were on display. One PC connected to a TV allowed attendees to play NBA 2K16. An Intel “goodie bag” contained a mug with small cake balls inside.
And in the spirit of the season, LinkedIn held a silent auction of murals. All the proceeds are going to San Francisco-based non-profit MUST, Music in Schools Today.
Contributing: Eli Blumenthal
Follow USA TODAY San Francisco Bureau Chief Jon Swartz @jswartz
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