A couple with online connections

Published: Wednesday, Jan. 27 1999 12:00 a.m. MST

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Hollywood has Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman. Washington has James Carville and Mary Matalin. In New York publishing, there's Tina Brown and Harry Evans. And in Silicon Valley, there's David and Ellen Siminoff.

As Internet expert and money manager for a unit of Capital Group Inc., David Siminoff helps guide the billions of investment dollars fueling the medium's explosive growth, making him -- at 34 years old -- one of the most powerful money men in cyberspace. He is a consummate Big Picture person, funneling capital to a pantheon of online success stories, including America Online Inc. Some Web executives call him "the smoking man," after the mysterious character on television's "X-Files," who pulls the strings behind the scenes.His wife, Ellen Siminoff, is the 31-year-old vice president of business development for Yahoo! Inc. She is the insider, battling on the ground day by day to execute the moves that have made Yahoo the most successful among so-called portal companies vying to be the World Wide Web's gatekeepers. As Yahoo's head deal maker, Ms. Siminoff is regularly approached by everyone from media giants such as Walt Disney Co. to tiny start-ups, all seeking some kind of link with the Internet's most-visited site.

"It's hard to imagine a pair of people in Silicon Valley who are more connected," says Quincy Smith, director of investor relations at Netscape Communications Corp., the Internet software company that is about to be merged into AOL. Mr. Siminoff periodically invests in and advises Netscape, sometimes about ways it might compete with his wife's company. "They rule," Mr. Smith says of the couple.

The male-dominated culture of Silicon Valley hasn't produced many powerful women; even fewer of them are married to powerful men. The Siminoffs are a rarity -- spouses who are equally influential and sought after in their own right. They are the first power couple of the Internet Age.

They don't behave like most other power couples, though. In keeping with the Valley's anti-status culture, the Siminoffs shun publicity and rarely go to parties or charity functions. They like skiing and football and spend most of their free time at home.

If the Siminoffs are far less glamorous than most other industries' power couples, they also are probably much richer. Most of their wealth is in stock investments of various kinds. The Siminoffs decline to discuss their wealth and exactly how much of it there is, but many of Ms. Siminoff's Yahoo peers hold stock and options valued at more than $100 million. Mr. Siminoff has been richly rewarded for his ability to pick hot Internet stocks. He can't trade personally in the stocks he recommends for his employer, but he can invest in Capital Group funds -- a way to "eat your own cooking," he says.

Having each made fortunes astonishingly early in life, the Siminoffs take pride in relatively modest tastes and inconspicuous consumption. Mr. Siminoff has a nice set of golf clubs. Both drive the least-expensive models of luxury cars -- a Lexus for her, a Mercedes for him. They recently moved out of a "bungalow" in Menlo Park and into a French Normandy-style home in Los Altos, where they are closer to his parents' home. "It's decent finally, but not incredible," Mr. Siminoff says.

There are no second and third homes, no opulent vacations -- the couple honeymooned at nearby Pebble Beach so they could golf -- and definitely no private planes. "It's indefensible, and the economics are bad no matter how rich you are," says Mr. Siminoff, who does admit to having upgraded to business class for his commercial flights.

Flaunting their wealth and power, they say, would represent poor judgment and poor taste. "We tend to work a lot and spend the rest of our time with friends and family," says Mr. Siminoff, whose curly mop of brown hair makes him seem like he just emerged from class at his nearby alma mater, Stanford University.

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