Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Terry Semel: A Yahoo success story

Most of us weren't expecting to see Terry Semel step down from the CEO's job at Yahoo just yet, but with Google out-Googling everybody, there's not a lot of patience to be had for the leader of the no. 2 Internet property. As former Yahoo exec Ellen Siminoff told The New York Times, “It’s not fair to say that Yahoo totally blew it. Yahoo did a fine job in search. It’s just that Google did an amazing job. So in comparison, it doesn’t look as good.” Having read both that story, and the one in The Wall Street Journal (subscription required) this morning, I'd take the Journal story as being far more accurate, since it doesn't present Semel's Yahoo career as a litany of failure. In fact, Semel got Yahoo into a strong enough position after its 2001 swoon that, in a sense, it was set up to be compared to Google—even if it wasn't set up to conquer it. It was Semel who had the savvy to hire Madison Avenue types such as Wenda Harris Millard in late 2001, and Jerry Shereshevsky. And they, in turn, got the ad industry not only believing in Yahoo but in Internet advertising itself. Yahoo was the first major Internet property to bounceback after the dot-com bust, by realizing that it had to court the traditional ad industry instead of chastising it for what was once the ultimate crime: "not getting it." And it was Semel who bought search pioneer Overture, without which Yahoo couldn't even have competed in the same universe as Google. And remember when everyone was sure Semel's first move at Yahoo should be to sell it, maybe to Sony? Semel wisely withstood the pressure. Buying Flickr was another savvy move, though I've always been underimpressed with their ability to monetize it. Hiring Lloyd Braun? Not so savvy. So, while it may be true that Semel's time to push Yahoo forward has come and gone, without him Yahoo might have been counted out long ago.

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