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Wednesday, 18 April, 2001, 16:18 GMT 17:18 UK
Profile: Yahoo's Terry Semel
Terry Semel
When newly named Yahoo Chairman and Chief Executive Terry Semel takes over the reins of the internet portal, he will inherit a business many analysts believe is too unfocused and trying too hard to be all things to all people.

It was an approach pioneered by Yahoo's former chief executive Tim Koogle who stepped down last month to make way for Semel.

Mr Koogle helped build Yahoo from a mere search engine to the internet portal that today features everything from chat to online bill paying, from financial news to auctions.

That evolution has its critics.

"Yahoo today gives the impression of having a scattered approach," says John Corcoran, an internet analyst with CIBC Oppenheimer in Boston.

"They have done a lot on the consumer side and a little bit on the enterprise side," he says.

"And they are trying to go off in may different directions. Part of the challenge will be to help rationalise where Yahoo will spend most of its efforts."

Dubious choice

As co-chairman and co-chief exec of Warner Bros, now part of media giant AOL/Time Warner, Mr Semel was recognised as one of the most powerful figures in Hollywood.

He takes over at a crucial point in Yahoo's short history as it struggles to cope with a downturn in the US economy and a huge drop in internet advertising.

But whether Mr Semel is up to the challenge of directing Yahoo in a finely honed direction remains to be seen.

In speaking to reporters on Tuesday, he noted that advertising will still remain core to the company even as internet ad rates plummet and enthusiasm among advertisers wanes.

And Mr Semel is focused on brand building, something his predecessor was well-known for.

It is perhaps for those reasons that Wall Street's response to his selection as the chief was luke warm. Some analysts also question his lack of internet experience.

"We would regard Semel as a good fit - although not a perfect one," says Merrill Lynch internet analyst Henry Blodget.

"We think a more perfect fit in terms of background would have been someone from print, or advertising-driven media, with strong relationships among the advertising community."

Proven track record

The company hopes Mr Semel, who has compared Yahoo to Warner Brothers in 1980, before it expanded into television and other media, will help it to diversify.

Mr Semel does present a formidable track record in turning around the fortunes of Warner Bros.

In a conference call, he touted that under his reign at the motion-picture and music giant, annual revenues grew 110% to $11bn in 1999 from $1bn in 1980.

Together with his partner Robert Daly, Mr Semel, the company achieved 18 consecutive years of record profits and revenues.

They also acquired a reputation at Warner Bros for making lavish, big-budget movies with major stars.

The pair's film hits include Chariots of Fire, Unforgiven, Police Academy, Lethal Weapon, The Matrix and Stanley Kubrick's final film Eyes Wide Shut.

The duo also gave the green light to a string of expensive flops prior to their 1999 departure, including Wild Wild West, Lethal Weapon 4 and The Avengers.

However, they are widely credited with turning Warner Bros into one of the world's largest media and entertainment enterprises.

During Mr Semel's 24 years with Warner Bros, it grew from a single revenue source generating less than $1bn a year to nearly $11bn total revenues from diverse businesses, including television, music and publishing, with interests in 50 countries.

Prior to Warner Bros, he was president of Walt Disney's theatrical distribution division and previously was president of CBS's theatrical distribution division.

Internet novice

But Mr Semel's real challenge will be in translating all that expertise and making it work for online media giant Yahoo.

Earlier this month, Yahoo posted an $11.5m first quarter net loss, compared with a profit of $67.6m for the same period last year. It also said it was cutting 12% of its workforce.

The company has come under increasing pressure to add traditional media expertise to its top management, which has so far been made up mostly of high-tech experts who have had difficulty transforming it from an internet start-up into a global media giant.

Mr Semel is upbeat, saying that "Yahoo is a company with incredible potential."

In response to his critics who say he is not the perfect man for the job, Mr Semel says "I will always have a lot to learn about the internet. But I'm surrounded by what I consider to be some of the world-class experts."

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