Yang was born in Taipei, Taiwan on November 6, 1968, and moved to San Jose, California at the age of ten with his mother and younger brother. He claimed that despite his mother being an English teacher, he only knew one English word (shoe) on his arrival. Becoming fluent in the language in three years, he was then placed into an Advanced Placement English class.
Yang graduated from Sierramont Middle School and Piedmont Hills High School in San Jose and went on to earn a Bachelor of Science and a Master of Science in electrical engineering from Stanford University, where he was a member of Phi Kappa Psi fraternity.
Yang is married to Akiko Yamazaki, a Japanese woman who was raised in Costa Rica. Yamazaki graduated from Stanford University with a degree in industrial engineering and is a director with the Wildlife Conservation Network. The couple met at Stanford University in the Kyoto overseas program in 1992.
In February 2007, Jerry Yang and his wife gave $75 million to Stanford University, their alma mater, $50 million of which went to building the “Jerry Yang and Akiko Yamazaki Environment and Energy Building”, a multi-disciplinary research, teaching and lab building designed with sustainable architecture principles.
In late 2012 and early 2013, San Francisco’s Asian Art Museum exhibited selections from the Chinese calligraphy collection belonging to Yang and his wife. Yang began the collection in the late 1990s; it contains about 250 pieces. These selections also appeared at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in the 2014 exhibition “Out of Character: Decoding Chinese Calligraphy.”
Yang founded Yahoo! in 1994, served as CEO from 2007 to 2009, and left Yahoo! in 2012. He founded a venture capital firm called AME Cloud Ventures and as of 2015, serves on several corporate boards. According to Rob Solomon, a venture capitalist at Accel Partners, Yang was “a great founder, evangelist, strategist and mentor,” having “created the blueprint for what is possible on the Internet.”
1994-2012: Yahoo! years
While studying at Stanford in 1994, Yang and David Filo co-created an Internet website called “Jerry and David’s Guide to the World Wide Web,” which consisted of a directory of other websites. As it grew in popularity they renamed it “Yahoo! Inc.” and dropped out of Stanford. Yahoo! received around 100,000 unique visitors by the fall of 1994. In April 1995, Yahoo! received a $2 million investment from Sequoia Capital and Tim Koogle was hired as CEO, and Yang and Filo were each appointed “Chief Yahoo”. Yahoo! received a second round of funding in the Fall 1995 from Reuters and Softbank. It went public in April 1996 with 49 employees. In 1999, Yang was named to the MIT Technology Review TR100 as one of the top 100 innovators in the world under the age of 35. Terry Semel replaced Koogle as CEO after the dot-com bubble crash and he served until 2007 when the rise of Google led the board to fire him and appoint Yang as interim CEO.
Dealings in China
Yang led Yahoo!’s investment in Alibaba prior to becoming CEO and served as CEO during the time when Yahoo!’s dealings with the Chinese government became controversial.
Yang met Alibaba founder Jack Ma in 1997 during Yang’s first trip to China. Ma, a government-employed tour guide and former English teacher, gave Yang a tour of the Great Wall of China. The two hit it off and discussed the growth of the Web, and Ma created Alibaba several months later. A 1997 photo of Yang and Ma at the Great Wall still hangs on the wall in Alibaba’s Hangzhou office.
In 2005, under Yang’s direction but before he took over as CEO in 2007, Yahoo! purchased a 40% stake in Alibaba for $1 billion plus the assets of Yahoo! China, valued at $700 million. In 2012, Yahoo! sold a portion of its stake in Alibaba for $7.6 billion. The company made an additional $9.4 billion in Alibaba’s 2014 IPO. Eric Jackson, the founder of hedge fund Ironfire Capital, called Yahoo!’s investment in Alibaba “the best investment an American company has ever made in China,” and stated, “Jerry deserves enormous credit for that.”
Chinese government collaboration controversies
In fall 2005, a month after the Alibaba investment, news broke that Yahoo! had cooperated with Chinese authorities in the arrest of Chinese journalist Shi Tao in November 2004.
Tao had used a Yahoo email address to anonymously notify a pro-democracy website in the US that the Chinese government had ordered the Chinese media not to cover the fifteenth anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Protests of 1989 on June 4. Yahoo! provided the Chinese security agencies with the IP addresses of the senders, the recipients and the time of the message. Tao was subsequently convicted for “divulging state secrets abroad.”
Yang justified the action, stating: “To be doing business in China, or anywhere else in the world, we have to comply with local law[s].” Yang and Yahoo! were heavily criticized, and Reporters Without Borders called Yahoo! “a Chinese police informant”.
In April 2007, Wang Xiaoning and other journalists brought a civil suit against Yahoo! for allegedly aiding and abetting the Chinese government which, it was claimed, resulted in torture that included beatings and imprisonment.
In early November 2007, Yang faced questions from a Congressional committee with respect to Yahoo!’s role in the arrests of Shi Tao and other journalists in China. During the hearings he apologized to Tao’s mother, who was also at the hearing.
A week later, Yahoo! agreed to settle with affected Chinese dissidents, paying them undisclosed compensation. Yang stated, “After meeting with the families, it was clear to me what we had to do to make this right for them, for Yahoo, and for the future.” That week, Yang established the Yahoo! Human Rights Fund, a fund to provide “humanitarian and legal support” to online dissidents.
In February 2008, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said that she raised issues about jailed Chinese journalists with her Chinese counterpart; she cited a letter from Yang requesting her assistance in freeing the jailed dissidents. Late in 2008, the Laogai Museum opened; the museum was run by noted Chinese dissident Harry Wu and showcased China’s laogai penal system. It was funded by the Yahoo! Human Rights Fund.
In February 2008, Microsoft made an unsolicited offer to buy Yahoo! for $44.6 billion; at the time Yahoo! was still struggling to catch up to Google, and Microsoft was still seeking an internet strategy. The offer was a 62% premium to Yahoo!’s market value at the time. The negotiations were difficult, as Yang had no desire to sell Yahoo! and would not make a counter-offer. The negotiations ended in failure in May 2008, and Yahoo!’s stock price plunged. Yang and board chairman Roy Bostock were strongly criticized by investors for their handling of negotiations, which later led to several shareholder lawsuits and a proxy fight led by Carl Icahn, which was settled in July 2008.
Yang’s response to the Microsoft takeover was to make a commercial search advertising arrangement with Google but they ended negotiation, after U.S. authorities voiced concerns regarding the effect on competition in the market.
Resignation as CEO to departure
On November 17, 2008, The Wall Street Journal reported Jerry Yang would step down as CEO as soon as the company found a replacement. Yang served as CEO until 2009, when Yahoo! named Carol Bartz as CEO. Yang regained his former position as “Chief Yahoo” and remained on Yahoo’s board of directors.
In January 2012, Yahoo! announced that Yang was leaving the company, and would be resigning from the board and all other positions at the company. The company also announced his resignation from the boards of Yahoo! Japan and Alibaba Corp.
AME Cloud Ventures
After leaving Yahoo! he became a mentor to technology startups and an investor through his firm, AME Cloud Ventures. AME (pronounced “ah-meh”) has provided funding to more than 50 startups, including Tango, Evernote, Wattpad and Chinese travel site Shijiebang. “Ame” means “rain” in Japanese, a nod to Yang’s interest in cloud computing. He re-joined the board of Alibaba in 2014.
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