Country of origin: Taiwan
Year came to U.S.: 1978
Education: BS and MS Electrical Engineering, Stanford University
Business: Yahoo! (1994)
Headquarters: Sunnyvale, CA
2017 revenue: $5.2 billion
Worldwide employment: 8,600
The only English Yang knew when he came to the United States was the word “shoe.”
Yahoo! was worth $130 billion at one point and Yang became one of America’s wealthiest men.
The future doesn’t look so bright when at age 10 the only English word you know is “shoe.” That is unless you’re Jerry Yang.
Yang moved to San Jose, California, from Taiwan in 1978 with his brother and mother after his father died.
“We got made fun of a lot at first,” Yang told Fortune magazine. “I didn’t even know who the faces were on the paper money.”
This spurred Yang to work harder. He mastered English in just three years, was elected student body president and graduated first in his high school class.
Despite working part-time to help support himself at Stanford, Yang acquired both his bachelor’s and master’s in just four years. But he left Stanford to run Yahoo! before he could complete his PhD.
While at Stanford, Yang and classmate David Filo ventured into the uncharted territory of the Internet. In 1994, searching through Web content was not unlike searching for library books. Yang and Filo created a directory of websites organized in a hierarchy rather than a searchable list. At first called “Jerry and David’s Guide to the World Wide Web,” they gave it the acronym Yahoo! for “Yet Another Hierarchical Officious Oracle.”
Yahoo! was an overnight sensation and Yang, its “Chief Yahoo!” (CEO), became one of America’s wealthiest men. At one point, the company was worth $130 billion. It survived the dot-com bubble and subsequently diversified its activities. It acquired Four11 and its webmail, Rocketmail, which became Yahoo! Mail; ClassicGames.com became Yahoo! Games; and eGroups mailing lists became Yahoo! Groups. In June 2017, Verizon bought Yahoo’s core operating business for $4.48 billion.
In 2012, Yang left Yahoo! He is currently investing in the next generation of technologies at his firm AME Cloud Ventures, where he has invested in more than 50 startups. He is also investing in space travel and longevity research, two potentially high-growth areas.
Yang has kept a close connection to his alma mater. In 2007, he and his wife pledged $75 million to Stanford University to build the Jerry Yang and Akiko Yamazaki Environment and Energy Building, affectionately known on campus as Y2E2, and he currently serves as vice-chair of its board of trustees. In 2017, they pledged $25 million to the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco, the museum’s highest ever donation.
To learn more about the work of Asian American immigrants to the United States, check out the blog post Nine Famous Asian and Pacific Islander Immigrants.
Updated November 2021