When former Warner Bros. (AOL) co-CEO Terry S. Semel came to Silicon Valley in 2001 to interview for the top job at Yahoo! Inc., he was the consummate outsider. Even the geography was baffling. After dining at the Atherton (Calif.) home of Yahoo (YHOO)director Edward Kozel, the movie mogul steered his car into the inky night and quickly lost his way. After driving in circles for 15 minutes, Semel whipped out his cell phone and called a Hollywood buddy familiar with the Valley who helped him locate the main road.
Now, Semel is showing the rest of the dot-com world a thing or two about navigation. Foremost, Semel's dealmaking skills have rejuvenated Yahoo's ad business with forays into high-speed Net access and online job listings. Moreover, Semel has demanded that Yahoo's myriad Internet services, from e-mail accounts to stock quotes and Web searches, interact increasingly with one another. Instead of Yahoo being an impartial tour guide to the Web -- like, say, rival Google Inc. -- Semel has instilled a theme-park mentality, where customers are encouraged to stay inside Yahoo's walls as long as possible. Revenues and profits have surged to record highs, and the company's stock has hit $35, more than double its value on Semel's arrival. Investors are saying "Yahoo!" again.