Catching up with: Terry Semel

H'wood exec logs onto Yahoo! Boom

In 1999, Terry Semel jolted Hollywood when he closed the book at Warner Bros. after 24 years — joining the ranks of the uber-wealthy unemployed. Two years later, another shocker: He took the top job at Internet company Yahoo!.

Could one of Hollywood’s last moguls trade in Tinseltown for the tech biz — and make a go of it?

He did. And lately, Semel and Yahoo! are getting nearly as much press as Harry Potter.

In a sign that he’s truly arrived, Semel’s photo — styled in black attire with glasses and salt-and-pepper coif — graced the cover of the latest Business Week. Inside: a paean to Semel and “Yahoo! Act Two.” That’s the Wall Street equivalent of Semel’s handprints in cement at Mann’s Chinese Theater.

And it’s because as other ‘Netcos melted, Yahoo! survived and thrived. Profits are rising and its stock price has more than tripled in a year. Semel, who wanted to own a piece of his new venture, bought 1 million shares when he signed on at $17 each. They’re now worth about $30 apiece.

“Terry and Bob were not technologists,” says an industry insider, referring to Semel’s co-studio head Bob Daly who left at the same time. (Now Semel pals about with Yahoo! co-founder Jerry Yang.)

“There were lots of people who said, ‘He doesn’t know beans about running this business.’ I’ve got to hand it to him,” recalls another exec.

Ironically, Daly-Semel’s exit was viewed as the end of an era as freewheeling studio chiefs made way for corporate bean counters devoted to the bottom line.

But that was never true, says a former Time Warner exec. “They had huge contracts, huge pay. But (beside that) they ran a very tight ship at Warner.”

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