views updated May 18 2018



In general, entrepreneurs are enthusiastic and bright risk takers who are willing to take a chance and create new markets. In the computer industry, some have become very wealthy, very fast. During the last half of the twentieth century, the vision and daring of computer entrepreneurs generated one of the most extensive technological revolutions ever.

This article contains, in alphabetical order, brief biographical sketches of ten of those entrepreneurs and their contributions: Tim Berners-Lee, Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, Steven Jobs, Mitchell Kapor, Sandra Kurtzig, Pamela Lopker, Pierre Omidyar, John W. Thompson, and Jerry Yang.

Tim Berners-Lee

Tim Berners-Lee was born in England in 1955, graduated from Oxford University with a degree in physics, and is generally acknowledged as the originator of the World Wide Web. During his adolescence, he was influenced by Arthur C. Clarke's short story "Dial F for Frankenstein." This possibly influenced his later vision that the web could truly seem alive.

While consulting at CERN (the European Organization for Nuclear Research), he created a program called Enquire to master CERN's intricate information system and his own mental associations of information. With this program, he could enter several words in a document, and when the words were clicked, the program would lead him to related documents that provided more information. This is a form of hypertext, a term coined by Ted Nelson in the 1960s to describe text connected by links.

In collaboration with colleagues, Berners-Lee developed the three cornerstones of the web: the language for encoding documents Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) ; the system for transmitting documents Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) ; and the scheme for addressing documents Uniform Resource Locator (URL) .

Berners-Lee runs the nonprofit World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) that helps set technical standards for the web. Its members come from industry, such as Microsoft, Sun, Apple, and IBM, some universities, and some government research centers, both from the United States and elsewhere, for example, CERN. As of December 2001, W3C had more than 500 members. As director of W3C, he brings members together to negotiate agreement on technical standards. In May 1998, Berners-Lee was awarded one of the prestigious MacArthur "genius" fellowships, freeing him to do just about whatever he wanted for a few years.

Jeff Bezos

Jeff Preston Bezos was born in New Mexico in 1964. He was raised by his mother and his stepfather, Mike Bezos, who had emigrated from Cuba. Bezos became famous for using the Internet as the basis for the Seattle-based bookseller Amazon.com.

After graduating from Princeton summa cum laude in electrical engineering and computer science in 1986, he joined FITEL, a high-tech startup company in New York; two years later, he moved to Bankers Trust Company to develop their computer systems, becoming their youngest vice-president in 1990. He then worked at D. E. Shaw & Co., an investment firm. It was there that he got the idea to start an online company based on the Internet.

In 1994 Bezos left Wall Street to establish Amazon.com. He had no experience in the book-selling business, but, after some research, realized that books were small-price commodities that were easy and relatively inexpensive to ship and well-suited for online commerce. More than three million book titles are in print at any one time throughout the world; more than one million of those are in English. However, even the largest bookstore cannot stock more than 200,000 books, and a catalog for such a large volume of books is too large for a mail-order house to distribute. Bezos had identified a strategic opportunity for selling online.

Amazon.com has continued to extend its product line offerings, which now include a variety of consumer goods, including electronics, software, art and collectibles, housewares, and toys. In December 1999 Time magazine chose Bezos as its Person of the Year.

Bill Gates

As a teenager, William H. Gates (born in 1955 in Seattle, Washington) was a devoted hacker. He knew how to make computers work and make money. Together with his friend, Paul Allen, he designed a scheduling program for their school, Lakeside School, in Seattle. Later, the two designed a program to perform traffic analysis that reportedly earned their company, Traf-O-Data, $20,000.

Gates entered Harvard in 1973, and while there was impressed by an article that Allen had shown him in Popular Electronics about the MITS Altair home computer. He recognized that these computers would need software and that much money could be made writing such programs. He and Allen developed a full-featured BASIC language interpreter that required only 4KB of memory. BASIC made the Altair an instant hit; in 1975, Allen and Gates formed Microsoft Corporation. Much to the disappointment of his parents, Gates dropped out of Harvard to pursue his software development dreams.

Gates's biggest break came when the IBM Corporation decided to enter the personal computer business. He convinced IBM that his small company could write an original operating system that would take advantage of the disk drives and other peripherals that IBM had planned.

By 1998, Gates had turned Microsoft into the largest and most dominant computer software company ever. By the end of fiscal year 2000, Microsoft had revenues of $22.96 billion and employed more than 39,000 people in 60 countries.

Steven Jobs

Orphaned shortly after his birth in California in 1955, Steven Paul Jobs was adopted by Paul and Clara Jobs in Mountain View, California, and was raised there and in Los Altos, California. His interest in electronics started in high school. In order to build his projects, he had to beg for parts, going as far as asking William Hewlett, president of Hewlett-Packard, for the parts he needed to build a computer device. His boldness landed him a summer job at Hewlett-Packard where he befriended electronics wizard Stephen Wozniak.

Jobs was thirteen and Wozniak eighteen when they met. They built the prototype of the Apple I in Jobs's garage, and together founded Apple Computer in 1976. They sold their first computers to a local electronics store, one of the first "computer stores." Wozniak eventually left Hewlett-Packard to work at Apple full time.

From the day it opened for business in 1976, Apple prospered, first with the Apple I, and then the Apple II. The introduction of the VisiCalc spreadsheet introduced Apple products to the business world, and in 1982 Jobs made the cover of Time magazine.

When sales of Apple computers dropped off after the introduction of the IBM-PC, Jobs set to work on the design of a new computer, the affordable and hugely successful Apple Macintosh. Jobs left Apple in September 1985, in a dispute over management, to found a new company, NeXT, Inc, which built workstations for university and business environments. However, despite a revenue of $60 million in 1996, NeXT was unsuccessful as a hardware company and was sold to Apple later that year for $400 million. Jobs later returned to Apple and became its chairman.

Mitchell Kapor

Mitch Kapor was born in Brooklyn in 1950 and raised in Freeport, New York, on Long Island. He graduated from Yale University in 1971 with a B.A. in psychology. Kapor spent several years doing odd jobs until 1978, when he became interested in personal computers and purchased an Apple II. Kapor became a serious programmer and created VisiPlot, an applica tion that would plot and graph the results of a spreadsheet, and VisiTrend. Before long, Kapor's royalty checks were running into the six-figure range.

In 1982 Kapor and Jonathan Sachs went on to establish Lotus Corporation to make and market his multipurpose Lotus 1-2-3, a program that combined some of the best features of a then well known and widely used spreadsheet program, VisiCalc, with graphics and database management capabilities.

Lotus 1-2-3 was designed to work on IBM's sixteen-bit processor rather than on the eight-bit processor, which was the standard for other microcomputers. Kapor felt that this new processor would soon become the standard throughout the personal computer industry, giving his program a head start. By the summer of 1986 Kapor left Lotus, and in 1987 he established ON Technology; he later founded Kapor Enterprises, Inc. Lotus was sold to IBM in 1997.

Sandra Kurtzig

Sandra Kurtzig was born in Chicago in 1946. She received a bachelor's degree from UCLA in 1967 and later a master's degree from Stanford University. In 1971 she used $2,000 to found a software company, ASK Computer Systems, Inc., which went public in 1974.

ASK started as a part-time contract software programming business based in her second bedroom. She received $1,200 from her first client, a telecommunications equipment manufacturer that needed programs to track inventory, bills of material, and purchase orders. ASK grew into a company that had $450 million in annual sales in 1992.

Kurtzig could not convince venture capitalists in Silicon Valley to invest in her company, so she launched it on her earnings alone. At one point she needed a computer to run a manufacturing program under development. She managed to gain access to a Hewlett-Packard facility where her colleagues could test the program during off hours. It was here that they developed computer software that was packaged with Hewlett-Packard computers.

In 1994 ASK was purchased by Computer Associates, a software company founded by Charles Wang, Judy Cedeno, and Russ Artzt; Wang and Artzt attended Queens College, in New York, at the same time. The company is based in Long Island, New York, but is a worldwide enterprise.

Kurtzig later became chairperson of the board of E-benefits, a San Francisco insurance and human resources service provider, founded in 1996 by one of her sons. ASK stands for Arie (the name of her ex-husband), Sandy, and Kurtzig.

Pamela Lopker

In 1979 Pamela Lopker founded QAD Inc., a software company which employed more than 1,200 people in 21 countries at last report. Their major product, MFG/PRO, is a software system that helps manufacturing firms track their products from sale order, to manufacturing, to delivery.

These enterprise resource planning (ERP) programs are used by a variety of companiessuch as Avon, Coca-Cola, Lucent, and Sun Microsystemsto deliver large quantities of products manufactured and distributed from more than 5,100 sites in some 80 countries.

QAD's 2006 Project was set up by Lopker in 1995. Its goal is to provide an introduction to the Internet to elementary school students in the Santa Barbara South Coast area. In 1998 Lopker was named "Entrepreneur of the Year" for the Los Angeles area. She was also named to the WITI (Women in Technology International) Hall of Fame in 1997.

Pierre Omidyar

Pierre Omidyar is the founder of eBay, the online marketplace where anyone, according to its mission, can buy or sell just about anything. Omidyar was born in Paris in 1968 and lived there until he was six when his family emigrated to the United States. He admits that his interest in computers started in high school and continued in college. He graduated with a bachelor of science in computer science from Tufts University in 1988.

The auction web site eBay, founded in 1995, was not his first venture; in 1991 he was the co-founder of Ink Development Corp., one of the pioneers in online shopping. It was bought by Microsoft in 1996 under the name of eShop.

Omidyar also worked as a developer for Claris, a subsidiary of Apple Computer, and, while he was launching eBay, he was working for General Magic, Inc., a mobile telecommunications company. Omidyar started eBay hoping to provide people with a democratic opportunity to trade goods, and to fulfill the wishes of his wife-to-be to find people who collected and wanted to trade Pez candy dispensers.

By the end of 1999 eBay had a market value of $20 billion and had close to 29.7 million registered users. Currently Omidyar lives in France and spends most of his time on philanthropic projects.

John W. Thompson

John W. Thompson received a bachelor's degree in business administration from Florida A&M University and a master's degree in management science from MIT's Sloan School of Management. Upon graduation he joined the IBM Corporation, where he spent twenty-eight successful years, advancing to general manager of IBM Americas, a 30,000 employee division, where his major responsibilities were in sales and support of IBM's products and services.

In 1999 he left IBM to join Symantec, a world leader of Internet security technology. As chief executive officer of Symantec, Thompson transformed the company from a publisher of software products to a principal provider of Internet security products aimed at individuals as well as large businesses.

Probably, the company's most well known product is their Norton line of security systems, which includes Norton Internet Security 2001, Norton AntiVirus 2001, Norton Personal Firewall 2001, Norton SystemWorks 2001, and Norton Utilities 2001. However, it also provides much needed security to most of the leading corporations.

Jerry Yang

Jerry Yang, born in Taiwan in 1968, emigrated to the United States with his mother when he was ten. He graduated from Stanford in 1990 with a bachelor of science and a master of science degree in electrical engineering in four years. There he met and formed a close friendship with David Filo, who had also earned a master's in electrical engineering at Stanford.

Yang and Filo entered the doctorate program at Stanford and, after Filo discovered Mosaic, they became addicted to surfing the World Wide Web. Their addiction developed into a list of links to their favorite web sites, which was stored on Yang's home page and was called Jerry's Guide to the World Wide Web.

Knowledge of Jerry's Guide spread fast and his site began to experience thousands of hits every day. Yang and Filo quickly realized that the guide had market potential and decided to form a company to promote it. The name Yahoo! is a take off on the UNIX program YACC, "Yet Another Compiler Compiler," and stands for "Yet Another Hierarchical Officious Oracle." The "hierarchical" comes from its categorization scheme of web sites. Yahoo! is one of the few search engines that use the intelligence of human labor to categorize the sites found.

Yahoo! went public in 1996, and in 2001 it was the leading online media company, with more global unique visitors than AOL or Microsoft networks, and, together with them, formed the top three in the United States.


The list of entrepreneurs is never-ending. Others that merit special mention are: Daniel Bricklin and Robert Frankston (VisiCalc), Nolan Bushnell (Atari), Steve Case (AOL), Larry Ellison (Oracle), and Ross Perot (EDS). Who knows, maybe your name will be added to the list.

see also Distance Learning; E-commerce; Educational Software; Internet: Applications.

Ida M. Flynn


Jager, Rama D., and Rafael Ortiz. In the Company of Giants: Candid Conversations with the Visionaries of the Digital World. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1997.

Kurtzig, Sandra L., with Tom Parker. CEO: Building a $400 Million Company from the Ground Up. New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 1991.

Lee, J. A. N. Computer Pioneers. Los Alamitos, CA: IEEE Computer Society Press, 1995.

Wright, Robert. "The Man Who Invented the Web." Time 149, no. 20 (1997): 6468.

Internet Resources

"About QAD." QAD.com web site. <http://www.qad.com/company/>

"Bill Gates' Web Site: Biography." Microsoft.com. <http://www.microsoft.com/billgates/bio.asp>

"CEO News and Views; John W. Thompson, CEO and Chairman, Symantec Corporation." Symantec.com. <http://www.symantec.com/corporate/ceo.html>

Cohen, Adam. "Coffee with Pierre." Time. December 27, 1999. <http://www.time.com/time/poy/pierre.html>

"First Lady of Software: Sandra Kurtzig." Entrepreneur.com web site. <http://www.entrepreneur.com/Magazines/MA_SegArticle/0,1539,233034-6,00.html>

"Jeff Bezos Biography." Entrepreneur. <http://www.annonline.com/interviews/970106/biography.html>

"Jerry Yang." Tallahasee Democrat Online. <http://www.tdo.com/local/graphics/1pyang/html/1.htm>

"Jerry Yang and David Filo." Stanford University School of Engineering web site. <http://soe.stanford.edu/AR95-96/jerry.html>

"Mitchell Kapor Biography." Kapor Enterprises, Inc. <http://www.kapor.com/homepages/mkapor/bio0701.htm>

Moran, Susan. "The Candyman, Pierre Omidyar." Business 2.0. June 1999. <http://www.business2.com/articles/mag/0,1640,13015,FF.html>

"Pamela Meyer Lopker." Women in Technology International web site. <http://www.witi.org/center/witimuseum/halloffame/1997/plopker.shtml>

"Pierre Omidyar Biography." The Industry Standard web site. <http://www.thestandard.com/people/profile/0,1923,1646,00.html>

Ramo, Joshua Cooper. "Person of the Year: Jeff Bezos." Time. <http://www.time.com/time/poy/index.html>

"Steve Jobs and Steve Wosniak: The Personal Computer." Lemelson-MIT Prize Program web site. <http://web.mit.edu/invent/www/inventorsI-Q/apple.html>

"Steve Paul Jobs." Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. <http://ei.cs.vt.edu/~history/Jobs.html>

Semel, Terry

views updated Jun 08 2018

Semel, Terry

February 24, 1943 Brooklyn, New York

CEO, Yahoo! Inc.

Do you Yahoo? Millions of computer users Yahoo every single day, but when Terry Semel took over as chief executive officer (CEO) of Yahoo! Inc. in 2001, he was not one of them. In fact, Semel knew very little about computers. When he received an e-mail, one of his assistants would print it out and Semel would scrawl out a written reply. Nevertheless, when Yahoo, one of the biggest Internet service providers, was struggling to survive in the cutthroat on-line industry, it turned to Semel. His more than thirty-year track record as an entertainment executive was unparalleled. By 2004, after a string of shrewd mergers and a creative organization redesign spearheaded by Semel, Yahoo was back in the game. Its stock prices were on the rise and analysts predicted a healthy future. Semel, the man who had barely ever surfed the Net, was given all the credit.

A bored accountant goes Hollywood

The man who resurrected Yahoo was born on February 24, 1943, in Brooklyn, New York. His father, Benjamin Semel, was a women's coat designer; his mother, Mildred, was an executive at a bus company. In 1964 Semel earned a degree in accounting from Long Island University in Brooklyn, New York. He briefly worked as an accountant, but soon became bored. When a friend told him about a sales training program offered by Warner Brothers, one of the top movie studios in the United States, Semel did not hesitate to change careers. As he explained to Fred Vogelstein of Fortune magazine, the Warner program offered him a "chance to learn about marketing and sales, which I was interested in." Semel simultaneously attended City College of New York in New York City, where he earned a master's degree in business administration (MBA) in 1967.

Semel's early days at Warner were spent on the road as a movie salesman. He traveled across the country with a list of upcoming Warner features, and talked theater owners into buying what hopefully would be the next box-office hit. Semel was such a whiz at sales that he caught the attention of other entertainment companies. In 1971 he became domestic sales manager at CBS-Cinema Center Films. Two years later he was named vice president and general sales manager of Buena Vista, a division of Walt Disney. In 1975 Semel was lured back to where he had begun: Warner Brothers. That same year he met Robert Daly, the man who would become his future business partner.

"We're not going to be crushed by anyone but our own ineptitude."

At first Semel was in charge of Warner distribution. Within five years he and Daly were running the entire studio. In 1982 Semel was named the company's president and chief operating officer (COO). In 1994 he became co-chair and co-chief executive officer (CEO) at Warner, sharing the duties with Daly. From the late 1970s to the late 1990s, Semel and Daly were known as one of the most powerful duos in Hollywood, and were responsible for turning Warner Brothers from a successful movie studio into an entertainment giant. As Vogelstein commented, "The twenty years that Semel and Daly ran Warner will probably go down as one of the longest and most successful partnerships in Hollywood history."

The dynamic duo

In the 1970s, before Semel and Daly took the helm, Warner Brothers was bringing in about $1 billion a year, with most of the studio's revenue coming from its films and its record label, Warner Brothers Music. Semel and Daly changed all that, effectively transforming the way movies were made and marketed, and how studios functioned. The duo expanded Warner Brothers into international markets, extended the music division to include hit record labels such as Elektra and Maverick, and broadened the company's entertainment arm to embrace television. Warner Brothers Television was responsible for producing many popular network TV series, including China Beach, E.R., and Friends. In 1995 Semel and Daly went one step beyond and launched the Warner Brothers (WB) Network, which created original series aimed at a younger audience.

Perhaps the most revolutionary thing that Semel and Daly accomplished was to turn Warner Brothers into a brand name. Warner Brothers Studio Stores popped up across the United States and carried all kinds of merchandise, from shirts to hats to neckties featuring well-known Warner Brothers animated characters such as Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, and Scooby-Doo. Semel and Daly also saw the potential in movies as merchandise, and began selling various products related to the movies they made. In 1989 they took a chance on an unknown director named Tim Burton (1958), and brought Batman to the big screen. The film was incredibly expensive to make, but it became one of the most successful movies of all time. It was also a merchandising gold mine, setting the standard for the way filmmakers of the future would finance and market their movies.

By the late 1990s, under Semel and Daly's guidance, Warner's annual revenues had grown from $1 billion to approximately $11 billion. The company had expanded as never before, and its film division was in peak form. In addition to Batman, Semel and Daly had green-lighted some four hundred films. Some were blockbusters like the scifi thriller The Matrix (1999); at least thirteen were nominated for a Best Picture Academy Award; and three actually took home the top honor. Semel and Daly were the toast of Hollywood, and were consistently named to the power lists of the entertainment business.

David Filo and Jerry Yang: Chief Yahoos

Yahoo was founded in 1994 by two friends at Stanford University, David Filo and Jerry Yang. Filo, like Terry Semel, is very quiet and avoids the limelight, rarely giving interviews. Yang is the more outgoing of the two and acts as the company's cheerleader. Both men still take an active part in the company, although Filo prefers to focus on the technology end of things. His title is key technologist. Yang sits on the board of directors and works closely with Semel to direct the company's business focus. The title the two men share and the one they gave themselves is that of Chief Yahoo.

David Filo was born in 1966 in Wisconsin to Jerry and Carol Filo; Jerry was an architect and Carol an accountant. The family soon moved to Moss Bluff, Louisiana, where they lived in an alternative community setting along with several other families. In 1988 Filo earned a bachelor's degree in computer engineering from Tulane University in New Orleans. He then moved to Palo Alto, California, to study at Stanford University, where he met future friend and business partner Jerry Yang.

Yang was born Chih-Yuan Yang in Taiwan in 1968. His father died when he was only two years old and he, along with younger brother, Ken, were raised by his mother, Lily, an English and drama teacher. When Yang was ten, Lily moved her family to the United States, settling in a suburb of San Jose, California. At first Yang spoke only Chinese, but he learned English quickly, and earned straight A's in school. After graduating from high school he attended Stanford where, in 1990, he simultaneously earned bachelor's and master's degrees in electrical engineering.

While they were doctoral students, Filo and Yang shared an office at Stanford. The "office" was a trailer filled with pizza boxes, golf clubs, and dirty laundry. Of course the office also housed their computers, which they nicknamed Akebono and Konishiki, after their favorite Sumo wrestlers. This was in the early days of the Internet, and Filo and Yang were soon hooked on the new technology, often spending hours surfing the Net instead of focusing on their Ph.D. studies. The World Wide Web, however, was difficult to navigate, because it was a mishmash of uncategorized data. Because they used the Internet so much, Filo and Yang decided to create an index of their favorite Web sites, a kind of roadmap that would help them get to their sites more easily. They designed some simple software that organized the Web pages by subject, and they launched their own Web site, called "Jerry and David's Guide to the World Wide Web."

Since the Web site resided on the Stanford server, Stanford students quickly began to use the helpful new tool. Other users stumbled on it, and within months the site was attracting thousands of people who were looking for a way to locate their favorite Web pages. Because their site was visited so often, Filo and Yang decided to change the site name to something a little simpler. After searching through the dictionary they found the word yahoo and decided to poke fun at themselves, since a yahoo is an unsophisticated person. The newly-named Yahoo continued to attract more users, and began to attract the attention of on-line companies such as America Online (AOL), who offered to buy the service. Filo and Yang, however, retained ownership of their creation, and continued to work up to twenty hours a day to make Yahoo an even better search engine.

In 1995 the pair received backing to start their own company, and a friend from Stanford helped them write a business plan. They left Stanford, rented office space, and in 1996 the company went public, which means that its stock was offered for sale to the public for the first time. Filo and Yang became instant millionaires. They also became examples of the modern-day executive: young, anti-corporate entrepreneurs who wore jeans to the office and worked barefoot late into the night. Along the way, Filo and Yang forever changed the way people view the Internet. Yahoo eventually grew from a search engine to becoming an Internet portal for people to access the World Wide Web. Today, Yahoo offers personalized Web pages, e-mail, chat rooms, and message boards. Users can log on to get any kind of information imaginable, from finance reports to a song by a favorite music artistall in a fun, slick environment. And the thanks go to Filo and Yang, just a couple of Yahoos.

In 1999, however, the dynamic duo's tenure came to an end. Semel and Daly had survived many twists and turns in the Warner Brothers organization, including the company takeover by Time, Inc., in 1989 and the Time Warner merger with Turner Broadcasting in 1996. But in July of 1999, during contract negotiations, the pair decided to leave the company. Some insiders claimed that they were forced out after a string of less than successful movies. Others speculated that Semel and Daly were not happy with the diminished role they were expected to play at Time Warner in the 2000s. Nevertheless, when they called it quits, it was the end of a Hollywood era. As Time Warner president Richard Parsons commented in Time magazine, "It's kind of like the '98 Yankees. It was a beautiful season. And every season comes to an end."

An unlikely combination

After he left Warner, almost every major studio set its sights on Semel, who was known in the business as a master negotiator. Semel, however, was embracing his newfound freedom. As he told John Greenwald of Time, "For the first time in my life I will not have a contract, a road map to follow. This could be the first time I can choose what direction I'm going in." The direction he chose was the Internet, a new medium with untapped potential. Semel launched his own technology investment company called Windsor Media and immersed himself in his newfound field.

When Yahoo went looking for a new CEO in 2001, Semel was not the man who came to most people's minds. The company was established in 1994 by two graduate students, David Filo (1965) and Jerry Yang (1968), who were looking for a way to organize the maze of Internet addresses on the World Wide Web. Over the years Yahoo had become a successful provider of Internet and Web-based services, and its owners were millionaires many times over. But with competitors such as Google nipping at their heels, and the bottom dropping out of the computer industry in the late 1990s, Yahoo was feeling the crunch. In January of 2000 Yahoo stock was valued at $235 a share; by mid-2001 it had plummeted to less than $11 per share.

When Semel replaced Tim Koogle as CEO in April of 2001, it may have come as quite a shock to many, but it seemed the logical choice for Jerry Yang. Yang had met Semel in 1997 at an annual media conference in Sun Valley, Idaho. Semel wanted to learn more about the Internet and Yang was impressed by Semel's keen business sense. The two became fast friends, and Semel became something of an unofficial Yahoo advisor. Yang knew that bringing Semel into the fold would cause controversy, but he believed it was worth it. "Everyone talks about what [Semel] did with movies and entertainment," Yang remarked to Fortune, "but what he really did was pioneer how to take a piece of content and get it out there. He had a distribution mentality, which at the end of the day is what Yahoo does on the Internet."

Semel did not immediately jump at Yang's offer. He met with company executives and board members, and considered the option carefully. He obviously did not need the money; when he left Time Warner he was a multimillionaire. According to former partner Robert Daly, who spoke with Jim Hu on the CNET News Web site, "Terry was not looking for a job, he was looking for a challenge." Indeed, Semel likened Yahoo to the early challenges he faced at Warner Brothers. As he told Hu, "I think Yahoo has great, strong core assets, and it was those assets that fascinated me and brought me to the table. I love building things and I will look forward to building those assets into a much larger and more diversified company throughout the world."

Yahoo grows up

When the fifty-eight-year-old Semel took the helm of the Sunnyvale, California-based company, he faced a major culture shock. For starters, he was twice as old as the average Yahoo employee. The Yahoo headquarters was something of a giant college campus. A purple cow greeted visitors in the lobby; there was a cubicles-only rule, which meant that all employees from the top down worked in the same equal-sized space; and meetings were usually free-form. The buttoned-down Semel quickly changed the rules. He created his own private office space and he rarely popped in to so say "howdy" to fellow employees the way former CEO Tim Koogle did. Not surprisingly, many employees were suspicious of the non-techie stranger in their midst.

Perhaps their suspicions were well-founded, since Semel lost no time in trimming the ranks. He laid off more than 12 percent of the Yahoo workforce and reduced the number of divisions from forty-four to only four: media and entertainment; communication; premium services; and search. He discontinued the many free-form meetings, where ideas had been launched with no coordination across the company. He created the Product Council, a sort of executive sounding board through which all new ideas had to pass. This ensured that each division head knew about every proposed initiative, and that each initiative was in line with company standards and policies.

During all the changes, Semel took time to learn the lingo. One-hour meetings turned into six-hour marathon sessions, as Semel went over and over the technology terminology. As Jeff Mallett, Yahoo's former president, told Fortune, "He'd stay in that conference room for hours until he got it. I think he learned three years of information in six months." So, while he may not have been making great friends in the company, Semel was earning the respect of his colleagues.

Investors say Yahoo

Semel quickly proved that his vision for the company was sound, as he expanded into new areas. When he came on board, 90 percent of Yahoo's revenues came from on-line advertising, which Semel thought was a shortsighted and rather dangerous way to do business. When the stock market becomes shaky, advertisers tend to pull their advertising, and this greatly contributed to Yahoo's downward spiral in 2000. Semel focused his energies on offering premium services to on-line customers that would require them to pay extra fees. For example, in late 2001 he struck a deal with phone company SBC Communications to offer high-speed Internet access to Yahoo customers.

In addition, Semel made some bold acquisitions. In December of 2001 he launched a takeover of Hotjobs.com, a deal that cost an estimated $436 million, but one that made Yahoo a formidable force in the lucrative world of on-line classifieds. In 2003 Semel positioned Yahoo to take on Google, the monster of all search engines, when he purchased Inktomi and Overture Services, two leaders in the Web search business. Yahoo executives were eager to launch the new Yahoo search engine, a tool that helps on-line users search for information on the World Wide Web, but Semel proceeded with his usual caution. He insisted that company engineers test and retest the system before offering the product to Yahoo customers. He told Fortune, "We didn't get into search to do what everyone else is doing. We got into search to change the game."

By mid-2004, only three years after Semel joined Yahoo, the company was in a complete turnaround on all fronts. Its annual revenues doubled from $717 million to $1.4 billion; stock prices rose to more than $40 per share; and for the first time ever, the company appeared on Fortune magazine's annual list of the thousand largest corporations in the United States. The new-and-improved Yahoo was attracting 133 million registered users a month, and more than 150,000 advertisers had come on board. Semel the media mogul had become Semel the on-line mastermind, and as BusinessWeek proclaimed in late 2003, investors were once again saying "Yahoo!"

For More Information


"David Filo Biography." Business Leader Profiles for Students. Vol. 2. Farmington Hills, MI: Gale Group, 2002.

"Jerry Yang Biography." Business Leader Profiles for Students. Vol. 2. Farmington Hills, MI: Gale Group, 2002.


Greenwald, John. "Out of the Pictures: Warner Brothers' Legendary Bosses Semel and Daly Exit Time Warner." Time (July 26, 1999): pp. 6869.

Stone, Brad. "Learning the Ropes." Newsweek (July 30, 2001): p. 38.

Vogelstein, Fred. "Bringing Up Yahoo." Fortune (April 5, 2004): p. 220.

Web sites

Hu, Jim. "Semel: The New Yahoo on the Block." CNET News.com (April 17, 2001). http://news.com.com/2100-1023_3-255995.html (accessed on May 28, 2004).

Hu, Jim, and Stephanie Olsen. "Guiding Yahoo from Adolescence to Adulthood." CNET News.com. http://news.com.com/1200-1070-959427.html (accessed on May 28, 2004).

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views updated May 23 2018



Private Business. The rich documentary sources relating to the Mesopotamian economy are inherently biased toward activities of the great institutions, the temple and the palace. By enabling administrators to record and predict activity in their various economic enterprises, the technology of writing was one of the tools that enabled large landholding institutions to achieve their high levels of productivity, and they employed large bureaucracies to maintain their financial records. Most of the surviving written sources at the economic historian’s disposal come from the urban centers, which were dominated—socially, economically, and politically—by these institutions. With their monumental architecture, the physical edifices of temples and palaces also dominated the cities spatially, and the continued prominence of such structures in the archaeological remains of a city further contributes to the recovery of institutional written records. The most significant documentary sources for economic activity in the Pre-Sargonic period (circa 2350 b.c.e.), for example, are the 1,800 tablets from the archive of the temple of Ba’u in Girsu (modern Tello), the capital city of the state of Lagash, which provide a picture of a large institutional household engaged in multiple sectors of the economy: agriculture, animal husbandry, crafts manufacture, and long-distance trade. The evidence from this temple archive and others has tended to overshadow economic activity that is less well documented, and Mesopotamia has often been characterized as a “temple-state economy” in which all resources are owned and entirely managed by the temple. While the model of the institutional household continues to be valid for the productive activities of the temple or palace, it has become evident that the economy was also served by entrepreneurs, people external to the institutional households, whose activities, while not as prominently documented, were nonetheless vital to the long-lived success of the Mesopota main economy.

Entrepreneurs and Entrepreneurship. An entrepreneur is defined as a person who organizes, operates, and assumes the risk for a business venture. He often plays the role of middleman, someone who fills a gap between the activities of a producer and a consumer—taking responsibility, for example, for the transportation and delivery of agricultural produce from outlying farms to the marketplace in the city or for the actual door-to-door collection of taxes owed the crown. In Mesopotamia, entrepreneurs are most evident in activities that took place outside the direct supervision of administrators of the temple or palace.

Shepherds as Entrepreneurs. The function of entrepreneurs in the Mesopotamian economy can be illustrated by an example of their activity in the sector of animal husbandry. The temple and palace generally owned large flocks of sheep and goats, which were not kept inside the city, where the institution was located, and had to be led great distances for adequate pasturage, returning to the city for shearing only once a year. The temple made a contract with a shepherd to take care of the flocks for the year. The contract typically included the number of animals entrusted to the shepherd, a projection of how many new animals would likely be born over the course of the year, and the amount of wool the shepherd was obligated to provide to the temple at the close of the contract year. At the end of the year, if fewer animals than the contract had stipulated were returned to the temple, the shepherd was obligated personally to make good the loss. If he could not pay from his own assets, he might have to commit himself or members of his family to the service of the institution. On the other hand, if he returned with more animals than expected, he could add the additional animals to his own flock; they were his profit from the venture. Because the shepherd took on the risk of managing the flock in exchange for the possibility of making a profit, he is, by definition, an entrepreneur. By contracting with the shepherd for a predetermined growth rate of the flock, the institution accepted a smaller margin of profit in exchange for reducing its risk of losses.

Limits of Institutional Accounting. The principles of interaction between institution and entrepreneur—as illustrated by the example of the temple contracting with the shepherd to manage its flocks—are essentially the same for other sectors of the economy: the institution set productivity goals that the entrepreneur agreed to meet. Deficits were charged to the entrepreneur, and surpluses constituted his profit. The internal redistributive system of an institutional household required careful bookkeeping, and Mesopotamian institutional accounting served what classical historian Moses Finley has termed (in regard to ancient Greece) a “police function“: providing inventories of goods and identifying persons responsible for those goods. Keeping track of an institution’s stores requires only the simple operations of addition and subtraction, and Mesopotamian accounting procedures were not equipped to predict future income by using the kind of statistical modeling used by modern accountants. The Mesopotamian models were arithmetically based, fairly simple, and suited the needs of the institution, which was always the stronger partner in any of its interactions with an entrepreneur. For example, in the case of a shepherd who contracted with the temple for the care of its flocks, no provision was made in the contract for the deaths of animals that died in circumstances where the shepherd was not at fault—as through accident, predator attack, illness, or other unforeseen calamity. Past records of the sizes of the flocks, as well as the experience of the administrator, would have provided some guidance as to what to expect for the next year, but the numbers in the contracts fail to take into account actual birth and death rates for the animals. Economic historian Michael Jursa has observed that the calculations used to predict the growth of the herd (or other forms of institutional income) amount to little more than wishful thinking: “the models had to simplify the complex realities considerably to make them appear controllable by the means at the bureaucrats’ disposal. . . . There was no notion of ’probability’ as we know it.” Also, for the most part, the institutions had the power to set the terms of contracts, no matter how unfavorable they might be to their partners.

Entrepreneurship in the Third and Second Millennia b.c.e.. In the third and second millennia b.c.e. entrepreneurs figured prominently in trade, especially long-distance trade. The so-called Seafaring Merchants of Ur, whose activity is particularly well documented circa 2000 b.c.e., were independent agents who took responsibility for transporting and selling the agricultural surplus and textiles produced by the Ur temples and using the proceeds to buy imported goods from Persian Gulf lands and transport them back to the city, where they were awaited by the temple administrators who had commissioned the deal. In taking on the temple’s wares, the merchant also assumed the risks of the trade. For example, a ship could founder at sea, or the cargo could be seized by pirates. Some contracts did make provision for catastrophe and thus shared some of the risk between the institution and the entrepreneur. For the most part, however, the merchant took the risk of personal loss in exchange for the opportunity for personal profit. Because they had cash or consumables on hand in the course of executing trades, merchants could also make loans, another means by which they were able to take risks (lending money) in exchange for earning profits (through charging interest).

Financial Families in the First Millennium b.c.e.. The best evidence for Mesopotamian entrepreneurial activity comes from Babylonia in the first millennium b.c.e., thanks in large part to texts from the private archive of the Egibi family in the city of Babylon. The archive probably once held some 2,500-3,000 tablets. Some 1,700 tablets have been identified as belonging to the archive, and most of them are now housed at the British Museum in London. Excavated illicitly by local inhabitants, the tablets were purchased on the antiquities market in the 1870s and 1880s. Thus, without any provenance information, the archive has been re-assembled by modern researchers on the basis of prosopographical, chronological, and geographical information within the texts on the tablets. The archive documents the financial dealings of five generations of the House of Egibi, during the reigns of Nebuchadnezzar II (604-562 b.c.e.) through Darius I (521-486 b.c.e.). The tablets tell the story of the rise of a nouveau-riche family that was unlike the traditional urban elite of the capital, whose wealth was based in large landholdings or positions in temple or palace bureaucracies. The first two generations of Egibi were commodities traders who bought large quantities of grain, dates, onions, and wool in the rural environs and then transported the goods by boat to markets in Babylon. Large building projects in the capital had attracted laborers and craftsmen, whom the palace supported with rations in consumable goods, which were purchased from traders such as the Egibi. Succeeding generations of the family then invested profits from this trade in the slave trade, agricultural management, and— most important—real estate.

The Fourth Generation of the Egibi Family. The eldest son of each generation directed the Egibi’s financial business. The activities of the fourth generation, led by Marduk-nasir-apli, are represented with more than 429 tablets. The texts from the time of Marduk-nasir-apli document a high level of involvement with the temples and the palace of Babylon, as indicated by actual transactions or by the participation of individuals identified as institutional functionaries. Extremely varied in content, the tablets range from contracts to a guarantee of delivery of foodstuffs for a religious ceremony to a lease for the rights to collect tolls from boats passing the city bridge.


The city of Babylon lay on both sides of the Euphrates River, with the two parts of the city connected by one bridge. The governor of Babylon had the prerogative to collect tolls from boats passing under the bridge or mooring at its piers. Marduk-nasir-apli, a member of the entrepreneurial Egibi family, bought or leased these rights from the governor, probably in exchange for a fixed payment made in advance. According to this arrangement, Marduk-nasir-apli was to share the income from these tolls with the “guardians of the bridge.” Instead of collecting the tolls himself, however, Marduk-nasir-apli and one of the other shareholders, Muranu, subcontracted the collection job to two other men, Bel-asua and Ubar, for a monthly payment of fifteen shequels silver. The text of the contract for this complicated arrangement is dated the twenty-sixth year of Darius, or 495 B.C.E.:

The levy (of tolls) at the bridge and the harbor (from boats) going downstream and upstream, the […] of Guzanu, governor of Babylon, which is at the disposal of Marduk-nasir-apli. A halt share in the income from the bridge of Guzanu, governor of Babylon, which is (shared) with Muranu, son of Nabu-mukin-apli, Nabu-bullissu, son of Guzanu, as well as with Harisanu, Iqupu, (and) Nergal-ibni, guardians of the bridge. Marduk-nasir-apli and Muranu, son of Nabu-mukin-apli, descendant of Massar-elep-rukubi, have leased (it) to Bel-asua, son of Nergal-uballit, descendant of Massar-elep-rukubi, for a monthly payment of fifteen shequels of white, medium-quality silver, of which one-eighth is alloy. Bel-asua and Ubar shall demand tolls from the boats that moor at the bridge. Bel-asua and Ubar shall not pass on the silver, the monthly income from the bridge that is due to Marduk-nasir-apli and Muranu, owners of a share in it, without (the consent of) Marduk-nasir-apli. Bel-asua and Ubar shall show to Marduk-nasir-apli and to the guardians of the bridge any written message that comes concerning the bridge.


Nabu-ittanu, son of Ardiya, descendant of Sin-ili

Arad-Marduk, son of Mushezib, descendant of Sippe

Muranu, son of Bel-iddin, descendant of Sha-nashishu

Nabu-re’ushunu, son of Nabu-shuma-usur, descendant of Kanik-babi

Nidintu, son of Kalbaya, descendant of Shuhaya

Mushezib-Marduk, the scribe, son of Shuma-ukin, descendant of Babutu

Babylon: the 1st of Tashritu (the seventh month, i.e., September-October), the 26th year of Darius, king of Babylon, king of all the lands.

They (the participants) have taken one (copy of the document) each.

Sources: Kathleen Abrams, Busmen and Politics under the Persian Empire: The Finamwl Dealings of Marduk-nasir-apli of’lie House of Egibi (Bethesda Md.: CDI, Press, 2004). pp. 465–466.


Kathleen Abrams, Business and Politics under the Persian Empire: The Financial Dealings of Marduk-nasir-apli of the House of Egibi (Bethesda, Md.: CDL Press, 2004).

Michael Jursa, Prywatyzacja i zysk?: Przedsiebiorcy a gospodarka instytucjonalna w Mezopotamii od 3 do 1 tysiaclecia przed Chr (Poznan: Poznan Society for the Advancement of the Arts and Sciences, 2002).

Cornelia Wunsch, “The Egibi Family’s Real Estate in Babylon (6th Century BC),” in Urbanization and Land Ownership in the Ancient Near East, edited by Michael Hudson and Baruch Levine (Cambridge, Mass.: Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, 1999), pp. 391–419.

Yang, Jerry

views updated Jun 27 2018


A native of Taiwan, Jerry Yang co-founded Yahoo! Inc. in March of 1995 at the age of 27. What began in 1993 as an effort by two Stanford University doctoral studentsYang and his partner David Filoto catalog their favorite World Wide Web sites eventually evolved into the world's busiest Internet portal. By the year 2000, the site was logging more than 100 million visitors every month. Yang remains a member of Yahoo!'s board of directors and plays a major role, in conjunction with CEO Tim Koogle, in steering the company's growth strategy. Yang owns roughly eight percent of Yahoo!'s stock.

Yang's family moved from Taiwan to San Jose, California, in 1978, when Yang was 10 years old. He won a scholarship to Stanford University, where he earned both his Bachelor's and Master's degree in just four years. Yang gained his first experience cataloging information with a part-time job at the university's library, where he sorted and shelved books. He was working on an advanced degree in electrical engineering at Stanford when he met Filo in 1989. In the early 1990s, the two began using Mosaic to browse the fledgling World Wide Web. They eventually created a program that would allow them to group Web sites into subject categories. The duo dubbed the resulting list of sites, "Jerry's Guide to the World Wide Web," and posted it on the Web. Positive e-mail responses from Web surfers all over the world prompted Yang and Filo to begin indexing all sites on the Web. They set a goal of cataloging 1000 sites per day, and when subject categories became too large, they added layers of subcategories.

The site's popularity grew rapidly, and Stan-ford's server began struggling under the increased traffic load. As a result, the university asked Yang and Filo to find another organization to host what they had renamed Yahoo!, an acronym for "Yet Another Hierarchical Officious Oracle." Buyout offers emerged from executives at Netscape, AOL, and what would become other leading Internet firms, but Yang and Filo turned them down. Instead, they agreed to take a leave of absence from their studies to co-found Yahoo! Inc. After securing financial backing from Sequoia Capital, Yang and Filo hired Tim Koogle to run the business. The more outgoing of the pair, Yang focused his attention on turning Yahoo! into a popular brand name, while Filo focused on the technological aspects of the operation. When the company went public in 1996, Yang and Filo found themselves millionaires, and as Yahoo's stock prices soared in the late 1990s, they eventually reached billionaire status.

Yahoo stands apart from most Internet-based ventures because it actually turns a profit. Advertising accounts for most of the company's revenues. Technology that allows the firm to track a visitor's online activity also lets Yahoo! control what banner bars and button ads that visitor sees. Yahoo! is also able to monitor how many hits an advertisement receives as a way of judging an ad's effectiveness. These advertising functions, though, are only a source of profits because of the firm's intense traffic levels. It is Yang who is most often credited for creating a site that attracts more visitors than most others. According to an April 2000 Advertising Age article, Yang created a "destination where Web surfers could get whatever they wanted from the site's personalized content, e-commerce offerings, special promotions, and other interactive data." Yang did this by continually forging alliances with companies as a means of offering new products and technology to users. For example, a 1999 alliance with Motorola Inc. allowed Yahoo! to expand into wireless Internet service. At the same time, Yang also worked to expand Yahoo!'s services to include things like e-store management and Web site construction.

In 2001, Yahoo! was forced to pause as declining advertising revenues and tumbling stock prices took their toll on the firm's bottom line. As a result, Yang stepped up his management role, and announced at a March 2001 press conference that Yahoo! was searching outside the company for a new CEO to replace Koogle.


Elkin, Tobi. "Jerry Yang." Advertising Age, April 17, 2000.

Mangalindan, Mylene, and Suein L. Hwang. "Yahoo!'s Isolation Plays Into Downfall; The Coteries of Early Hires Made the Company a Hit, But an Insular Place." Contra Costa Times, March 11, 2001.

Pepe, Michele. "Number 16: YahooJerry Yang." Computer Reseller News, November 15, 1999.

Schlender, Brent. "How A Virtuoso Plays the Web: Eclectic, Inquisitive, and Academic, Yahoo's Jerry Yang Reinvents the Role of the Entrepreneur." Fortune, March 6, 2000.

Stross, Randall E. "How Yahoo! Won the Search Wars." Fortune, March 2, 1998.

"Web Crawlers." Forbes, October 9, 2000.

SEE ALSO: Filo, David; Koogle, Timothy; Yahoo!

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