My Big Break: How Terry Semel (and the ET Atari fiasco) landed LinkedIn's Jeff Weiner at Yahoo
LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner has had a couple "big breaks" in his career. The first came when his father asked him to write a mock cover letter to help him figure out what he wanted to do with this life. Word of that cover letter reached an office mate who was able to hook him up with his dream job: A strategic planning gig at Warner Bros which Weiner admits, on paper at least, he was woefully unqualified for.
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His next big break, came there at Warner Bros. When reviewing Weiner's plans for the company's digital future, then co-Chairman and co-CEO Terry Semel approved the web component of it -- but not the CD-ROM component. The reason is tied into one of the most notorious disasters in the history of gaming.
"CD-ROM carried too much inventory risk," Weiner said. "And Warner Communications had had a very bad episode with ET. Remember ET for Atari? ...It almost crippled Warner Communications."
Luckily, the web was exactly where Weiner wanted to be. And while before getting the Warner offer he was initially worried that his youth would prevent him from landing his dream job, the fact that he was so young meant that moguls like Semel wanted to spend as much time with him as possible.
"I had a fair amount of Bob and Terry at that time because they increasingly wanted to learn about digital," Weiner said. "And again, I'm this really young guy in these meetings with these media moguls. True media moguls. And that was one of my favorite parts about working on the Internet. It was just a pure meritocracy."
(Well, maybe a pure meritocracy once you get your foot in the door, but that's another post...)
Later on, when Yahoo tapped Semel to be its CEO, the mogul asked Weiner to come with him and wouldn't take no for an answer.
That's been the story of Weiner's career. He would've never ended up at Warner Bros had his dad not asked him to write a mock cover letter, he would've never ended up at Yahoo had Semel not dragged him kicking and screaming there, and he would've never ended up at LinkedIn without the experience at a major web company like Yahoo. It also didn't hurt that he stopped playing around early with the soon-to-be obsolete CD-ROM, so let's give ET some credit too.
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