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Former Yahoo CEO Terry Semel Praised For Leadership

LACMA's 2013 Collectors Committee - Gala Dinner

Terry Semel might have been a controversial and imperfect CEO of Yahoo, but Eric Jackson of TheStreet.com, who was among the critics who called for Semel’s resignation in 2007, says Semels’ legacy of leadership cannot be ignored.

LinkedIn chief Jeff Weiner spoke glowingly about his former Yahoo boss, Terry Semel: “He’s very thoughtful, very generous, he has great business sensibilities and a golden gut. There is just something very endearing and familial about it … he literally thought it would be a great adventure. And it was. It changed my life.”

Weiner said his years with Semel were “the most invaluable period of learning of my entire career.” The list of  present-day executives who cut their teeth at Yahoo under Terry Semel reads like a Who’s Who of the hottest tech names: Dan Rosensweig of Chegg, Mike Murphy–VP of Global Sales at Facebook, Sue Decker– board member of  Intel, Berkshire Hathaway and Costco, Greg Coleman–CEO of Buzzfeed and Katie Stanton–VP of Global Media for Twitter, to name just a few.

Jackson said he was told by a venture capitalist, “I always like hiring people for my start-ups from Yahoo from the era vs. Google, because I know Yahoo people are smart but humble. They’ve seen highs and lows. They are more realistic about how the world works.”

However, if Semel had been entirely successful, there wouldn’t have been a decision to make between hiring from Yahoo or Google, since one of the main criticisms of Semel’s management was that he failed to take over Google, and Google’s growing dominance over Yahoo became a factor that led to his resignation. Another controversy was over Semel’s approval that Yahoo release previously confidential information to the Chinese government. Possibly aware that Semel is Jewish, a journalist asked Semel if he would have extended the same consideration to Nazi Germany (of course, every government famous for ethical problems is exactly like Nazi Germany) Semel’s response was a surprising, “I don’t know how I would have felt then.”

Well. Okay. Skip That.

Anyhoo, so it is clear the guy made various gaffes. However, the leaders he produced show him to have been a stellar leader. He closed the gap between media and technology and used technology as a way to deliver media. His partnerships with broadcasting companies and vast production of original content were also positive accomplishments during his tenure. But the real legacy, as Jackson points out, are how many leaders Yahoo produced; “I think the big part in how you judge a leader is by how many great leaders they nourish and develop beneath them over their career. On that score, Semel did an extremely good job.”

While competent, current CEO Marissa Mayer seems to have an issue with delegating and nurturing future leaders. She currently has perhaps as much as 36 direct report, s while the typical CEO has 10 direct reports. According Chief Executive Boards, even 10 might be too many: “Few if any managers can manage ten people, let alone more.”  If Marissa Mayer has triple the number of recommended direct reports, that is almost a guarantee that she is spreading herself too thin to have enough face time with people working for her.

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