Semel's out at Yahoo

Terry Semel

TEXT OF INTERVIEW

Kai Ryssdal: On the organizational chart, Yahoo co-founders Jerry Yang and David Filo are called the Chief Yahoos. Today, Yang's got another title. The board ousted six-year Chief Executive Terry Semel this afternoon and gave Yang the job.

The move came after a tough shareholder meeting last week. One that focused in no small part on Yahoo's stumbling performance and Semel's big paycheck. The Associated Press calculates Semel made $71 million last year.

We tracked down Fortune magazine's Adam Lashinsky on the roads of Silicon Valley someplace. Hey, Adam, how are ya?

Adam Lashinsky: Good Kai, how are you?

Ryssdal: Good. I'm reading the press release here and it says the board appreciates Terry Semel's service. But obviously they didn't appreciate it very much, they let him go today. Why?

Lashinsky: Terry Semel was a great leader of Yahoo when he came on board in 2001, really rescued the company from its last point of oblivion. But for the last two years he just hasn't been able to make the company do what it needed to do — which is to be an effective competitor to Google in terms of search advertising and in terms of letting Yahoo recognize all of the . . . I should say make money off of all of its tremendous online traffic.

Ryssdal: Is Jerry Yang, though, the person to do this? If Terry Semel, a movie studio executive, can't do it, then what's Jerry Yang gonna do? Yes, he founded the company, but come on.

Lashinsky: He co-founded the company and he probably knows more about it than anyone else, but Jerry Yang, twice in the company's history, has handed off the reigns to somebody else to be the CEO. So it's surprising that he would decide now that he wants to be the CEO of the company. I think you should look to them naming Susan Decker as the president as being a sign that the CEO job is now her's to lose. Or in fact, perhaps they're looking for a replacement for Jerry Yang. I'm surprised that they didn't name him interim CEO, but this gives him that much more authority for the time that he is in the job.

Ryssdal: What are he and Susan Decker going to have to do to get this company where investors want it to be?

Lashinsky: They may not have to do that much if their search advertising program, which they've been initiating for the past few months, works. Then they'll be able to at least make up some ground against Google. However, Yahoo also needs to invest in the rest of its properties. They've been siphoning so much money away from everything that doesn't have to do with search that they're not growing particularly well everywhere else. And that's gonna need to be a focus of the company.

Ryssdal: Adam Lashinsky's a senior writer at Fortune Magazine. Adam, drive carefully will ya?

Lashinsky: Thanks Kai, I will.

Ryssdal: Never fear, we asked him to pull over before we really started talking.

About the author

Kai Ryssdal is the host and senior editor of Marketplace, public radio’s program on business and the economy.

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