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As co-chief executive of Warner Bros., Terry Semel was one of Hollywood’s kingpins, having taken chances on movies (“Batman”), directors (Clint Eastwood) and deals that struck gold.

But when Yahoo co-founder Jerry Yang hired Semel in 2001 to rescue his web portal, eyebrows arched. Semel had barely used a computer.

What he had done was prove himself as a dealmaker and people person. Semel even claimed his lack of technical knowledge was good because it made him a “typical user.”

So, how did Semel take Yahoo from $93 million in losses to $239 million in profits over two years?

To make deals, Semel gets negotiations focused on two or three points instead of 10. He says too many negotiables bog down a deal.

And he’s so good with people that the guy he beat out for the CEO job stayed for a year: “I know it’s a cliché, but he listened, and that won me over,” says Jeff Mallett, Yahoo’s former president. “He has this way of making you feel comfortable, even in tough situations.”

— Adapted from “Bringing Up Yahoo,” Fred Vogelstein, Fortune.

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