What My Time at Yahoo! and Hulu Taught Me about Leadership in the Church

Before pastoring at EV Free , I worked as a corporate strategy analyst for Yahoo! and Hulu.

During this time, Jerry Yang (former CEO and co-founder of Yahoo!) and Jason Kilar (former CEO of Hulu) influenced me in opposite ways

At Yahoo, I learned from negative experiences. At Hulu, from positive experiences.

Who They Were Mentored By

Jason Kilar, former CEO of Hulu

At Hulu, every employee knew Jason Kilar’s (Hulu) major influences. Jason never stopped talking about Tony Hsieh from Zappos.com, Ed Catmull from Pixar, Steve Jobs from Apple, and his idol, Walt Disney. There was never an all-staff meeting where Jason didn’t mention at least two of his mentors.

Why is this helpful?

Each mentor was known for their culture defining leadership styles.

  • Hsieh changed the standard for customer service.
  • Catmull expounded the genius behind creative collaboration.
  • Jobs pushed the boundaries of human innovation.
  • Disney…well Walt made dreams come true.

We all knew what Jason was about. It was clear from the beginning, the values he lived and breathed. We were inspired to see him embrace these values — especially, when he left Hulu after standing up to powerful network executives to protect the vision he believed in.

Jerry Yang, Co-Founder of Yahoo!

In contrast, Jerry Yang’s mentors weren’t clear to us. I wonder if it was because he co-founded the company, but it seemed like he felt the need to be like Steve Jobs and look to himself as the source for culture.

As a result, it felt like the company had no direction. Jerry’s tenure as CEO was short-lived and the reigns were handed to Carol Bartz, who did marginally better.

In short, Jerry didn’t talk about what he was learning from others. It seemed like he was trying to figure it out on his own.

Jason was always open and honest in sharing what he was learning from great leaders. Most importantly he communicated how these learnings propelled the vision:

to help people find and enjoy the world’s premium video content when, where and how they want it. — Hulu’s mission statement

Church World

Do people know your major influences? Is it Bill Hybels? Rick Warren? Andy Stanley?

This shows your team that you are not operating out of your own wisdom but standing on the shoulders of leadership giants in the church world.

If you’re a senior leader, it’s not enough to quote Tim Keller, John Piper, or Chuck Swindoll in your preaching. Unfortunately, many churches with great preaching don’t grow beyond 200 members.

The key difference between growing churches and stagnant churches is leadership.

High capacity leaders cannot simply lead from the pulpit anymore. They need to lead their elder board, deacon board, their executive team, and wider church staff. We need to be quoting more of John and Nancy Ortberg than C.S. Lewis (I know, I love Lewis).

What To Do

If you’re within driving radius of a high capacity church leader, ask for mentorship. Ask them for coffee or lunch. Pay them for their coaching services. You won’t regret it.

I recently asked a high profile church leader (can’t name who yet) to coach and mentor me because I want to be groomed by one of the best. Coaching starts in November, after he finishes his book tour.

Resources for leadership development and coaching:

Have a “Them.”

Every great organization has a worthy and reasonable adversary. Yahoo’s “them” was Google, but it wasn’t reasonable because Google dominated the search business market. It created a “We’re Losers” culture at Yahoo. And we sure did play like we were losers at the time.

Hulu, on the other hand, chose Netflix to be their “them.” During the beginning stages of both companies, it was a close race which really drove the organization to perform at their best.

I remember aggressively bidding for content exclusivity for Mad Men (which they won), South Park (which we won), and the CW (we won, but didn’t really do much for us). It was exciting and the competition really drove me and my team to best serve our users by getting them the best content!

The difference?

People took pride at Hulu for being different, whereas people at Yahoo were trying to be proud of being second place (which was sad).
“Eddie, what’s wrong with being second?”

Wait, hear me out.

Tribal pride is important in cultivating a winning culture.

The goal is not to make your organization say, “We’re better than them!” The goal is to help your organization say, “We’re really great at this.”

Having a “them” is helpful because it raises the quality of everything you do as well as help discover your unique contribution, that you’re really great at this one thing.

What made Hulu distinct from Netflix was that we were the only ones that had current broadcast television for every device.

Even though Netflix and Hulu were essentially doing the same thing (streaming video content online without a cablebox), Hulu was able to differentiate and specialize because they fulfilled a need that Netflix could not.

What To Do

Pull up a map of the city your church is in. Identify all the other churches in your area. Every church has their unique contribution to that city.

Highlight the one or two churches that are similar to your church in size and demographic.

After you’ve identified your “them,” learn more about them and see how you can differentiate in order to win more for the kingdom.

Perhaps your church is the only one in your area that has a strong youth program. Maybe no one else in the area has a sports evangelism strategy. How about prison ministry? Maybe you’re the only church in the area that emphasizes drug recovery. Areas of uniqueness can be identified when you find your “them” and see how you can complement each other to renew the city with the hope of the gospel.

Further Resources:

In sum, leadership is all about culture.

Articulate what you are learning from successful proven leaders and identify brand uniqueness in order to build a culture that wins.

If you’re interested in learning more about blending management theory with church strategy or have any other questions email me at eddie.park@evfreefullerton.com.

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