Yahoo! is an utterance that might well escape the lips of a 37-year-old with a charmed life. Not only has Jerry Yang survived the Great Silicon Meltdown of 2000-01 with a $1.8 billion net worth, but he is Chief of the only company that's cooler than all of Bill Gates's monopoly power. When you come right down to it, Jerry Yang may be the luckiest entrepreneur since Bill Gates himself.
Jerry Chih-yan Yang was born the elder of two sons in 1968 in Taipei to a father who had immigrated from China and a mother who taught English and drama at a local university. Jerry was two when his father died, placing on his mother Lily the burden of supporting the family. She moved the family to San Jose in 1978 to save Jerry and Ken from Taiwan's obligatory military service.
The boys suffered the usual hardships of newcomers with zero English ability. "We got made fun of a lot at first," recalls Jerry Yang. "I didn't even know who the faces were on the paper money. But when we had a math quiz in school I'd always blow everyone else away. And by our third year, my brother and I had gone from remedial English to advanced-placement English."
By his senior year at Piedmont Hlls High Yang had established himself as BMOC. He played on the tennis team, was elected student body president and delivered the valedictory at graduation -- all while taking enough AP courses to skip his freshman year at college.
He sorted through scholarship offers, considered Cal and Cal Tech but ultimately settled on Stanford. The reasons he cites are that it let him stay close to home and didn't force him to declare a major right off the bat. "I thought I wanted to be an electrical engineer, which I turned out to be," he says. "But I was always curious about other things too, and what if I got interested in history or the law?"
With his running start Yang completed both his BS and masters in four years. The most important thing he learned as a Cardinal? The science of sorting and shelving books at his part-time job at the university library. "That's where I first learned about how systematically information was categorized -- you know, the Dewey decimal system and all that."
Yang's first encounter in 1989 with future partner David Filo has passed into Silicon Valley legend. Being two years older, Filo was the instructor for one of Yang's math courses, the one in which he got the lowest grade of his Stanford career, Yang likes to gripe. They shared passions for sports and math but didn't become pals until 1992 when both participated in a six-month academic exchange program in Kyoto.
Actually Japan proved to be a crucial nexus for many of Yang's most important relationships. It was during those months that he met future wife Akiko Yamazaki, a Costa Rican of Japanese ancestry who happened to be attending Stanford. "When we argue," Yang laments, "Akiko says I always have the advantage because English is my second language but it's her third language."
In Kyoto Jerry Yang also met Srinija Srinivasan, then a 26-year-old Stanford grad who, two years later, would become Yahoo's fourth employee, the ŇOntological Yahoo!Ó responsible for organizing the hierarchical structure of its first incarnation. And Yang's acquired ease with Japan and its culture would help attract seed money from Masayoshi Son and, later, establish Japan as the most successful of Yahoo's international markets, supplying nearly a fifth of its traffic. PAGE 4