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Terry Semel's Leadership Legacy: Inspiring Talented People to More

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Last week, I read this article about Jeff Weiner's comments at a Pando fireside chat. It had the long but intriguing title: "Jeff Weiner never wanted to work at Yahoo, but it's the best thing that ever happened to him."

Weiner is one of the many talented Yahoo  (YHOO - Get Report) alums who has gone on to great success post-Yahoo. Although Yahoo had successes while Weiner was at Yahoo -- it reached a $60 billion market capitalization in early 2006 and was often the No.1 or No.2 property in markets it competed in -- it also had many well-documented failures such as passing on buying Google  (GOOG) and Facebook  (FB - Get Report) . Yet, in the interview, Weiner calls his time at Yahoo "the most invaluable period of learning in my entire career."

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And, in large part, he credits that learning to working for his boss and mentor at the time Terry Semel. Describing Semel, Weiner says:

"He's very thoughtful, very generous, he engenders great loyalty, he has great business sensibilities, and a golden gut. There's just something very endearing and familial about it. You don't feel as if you're being manipulated in any way because it's coming from a good place. And he literally thought it will be this great adventure, and it was. It changed my life."

It got me to think about Terry Semel and his legacy as a leader.

Yesterday, I was on CNBC and was asked late in the interview about my recent criticisms of Marissa Mayer's leadership at Yahoo in relation to Terry Semel's leadership. The point of the question was that Semel got lots of criticism at the time but things worked out pretty well under his watch and so shouldn't Mayer just be allowed more time too.

There are, of course, big differences between Yahoo when Semel took over vs. the company Mayer took over two years ago. But I think there are also significant leadership differences between the two.

And I say this as a guy who criticized Semel in 2007 and lobbied that he be removed as CEO leading up to the 2007 shareholders meeting. Of course, at that time, I saw Yahoo as an incredible collection of consumer web assets which didn't seem to be fully taking advantage of its brand and traffic. I blamed Semel publicly then for this failure to fulfill what I thought was Yahoo's potential. And he quit a couple of days after I led a lot of shareholders to vote against his re-election to the board that year (in large part, I think, based on his compensation).

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