TIM KOOGLE: THE GROWN-UP VOICE OF REASON AT YAHOO!
Timothy Andrew Koogle hardly seems the Silicon Valley bigwig that he has become. As CEO of Internet highflier Yahoo! Inc. (YHOO), Koogle shuns geeky Net-speak. Instead, he talks in T.K.-isms--folksy phrases that draw on his Southern roots. ''Mamby-pamby,'' for instance, is Koogle's term for ideas that lack substance. ''Possum syndrome'' means indecision--when employees see headlights coming toward them and freeze. Then there's the ''rowboat syndrome,'' which describes people who spend too much time looking backward instead of forward.
No one would accuse Koogle of suffering from that. Since taking the wheel at Yahoo in August, 1995, the 47-year-old executive has been in overdrive. His business savvy, drawn from three engineering degrees and 15 years in high-tech management, has been critical to the success of this company, where the average age is 29. Indeed, Koogle is the voice of reason in an environment brimming with breathless Net enthusiasts. ''He's very decisive and very focused,'' says board member Michael Moritz, who interviewed a half-dozen candidates for the top job before settling on Koogle.
That's not to say Koogle can't yuk it up. But ever the businessman, he partakes in few of the zaniest antics. For example, before the company went public in 1996, founders Jerry Yang and David Filo took on the titles of Chief Yahoos. But Koogle steadfastly refused pleas to become the Chief Chief Yahoo. He hasn't tattooed the company logo on his rear end, either, as has another executive. And he declined a request from this publication to spray-paint his wavy, graying mane in Yahoo's trademark purple and yellow colors.
LIVELY DEBATE. As Yahoo's sixth employee, the lanky Koogle made his mark early. The company's co-founders, fresh from Stanford University and caught up in the freewheeling culture of the Web, were reluctant to turn their site into an advertising-driven enterprise. But the pragmatic Koogle persuaded them that they could make money and still deliver their online treats gratis.
He turned them around not by shoving his knowhow down their young throats but by building consensus through lively--sometimes painstaking--debate. Even today, Koogle and the founders, along with Chief Operating Officer Jeffrey Mallett, attack the most pressing issues as a team. Yang plays the enthusiastic, big-picture guy; Filo, the reserved technology wizard; Mallett, the all-business operations man; and Koogle, the seasoned veteran. ''It's pretty rare in business when management jells so well,'' says Eric Hippeau, a board member and CEO of computer trade publisher Ziff-Davis.
It almost seems that Koogle was destined to take the reins of a high-flying startup. Since the age of 7, an entrepreneurial spirit has carried him from job to job. His father, a mechanic and machinist, taught him how to build engines, a skill he put to use while growing up in Alexandria, Va. Later, Koogle put himself through grad school at Stanford by rebuilding the engines of students' cars and founding a company that did industrial design for companies in the Bay Area.
Koogle took his education and knack for mechanics to Motorola Inc. (MOT) in 1983, where for nine years he worked in its operations and venture-capital groups. There, while deciding whether to plunge millions of dollars into promising--or not so promising--business plans, he learned the fine art of risk-taking. After that, he joined Seattle's Intermec as president, increasing sales at the data-communications product maker by almost 50% during his three years.
Now, transforming Yahoo into a profitable business seems as natural to Koogle as rebuilding a car. ''It's full circle for me,'' he says. ''The whole process of taking raw parts and building something that runs is something that appeals to me.''
What also appeals to Koogle is racing around a track at 120 mph--as he did recently at racing school for some, uh, R&R. At home, the divorced Koogle kicks back by jamming on one of three vintage guitars he keeps in his bedroom. And when he can, he flies to his getaway home, across Lake Washington from Microsoft Corp.'s (MSFT) William H. Gates III, to see old friends from the Northwest.
These days, there's little time for such indulgences. Koogle is keeping pace with an Internet clock that moves faster than the sleekest racing machine. And he has to manage the wild expectations set for Yahoo, valued at $9.1 billion on Aug. 25. ''There are lots of people in Silicon Valley who start and end with 'How do I make lots of money?' I'm not about that,'' says Koogle, who lived in a spartan one-bedroom apartment before moving in March into a modest house in Saratoga, Calif. ''I'm into building businesses that make money.'' He hasn't done too badly for himself, either: His Yahoo stock is worth $200 million. Not bad for a mechanic from Virginia.
By Linda Himelstein in Santa Clara, Calif.
Updated Aug. 27, 1998 by bwwebmaster
Copyright 1998, Bloomberg L.P.