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Kaiser Kuo/Chengdu

Charles Zhang is not afraid of heights. Recently, Zhang, 39, the founder of Chinese Internet portal was clinging to the face of Mount Everest, 6,666 m above sea level. That’s high but nothing compared with the altitude of his company’s stock price. On July 10, Sohu shares closed at $38.25 on NASDAQ–a gain of 245% since April 1. More impressive, Sohu shares are worth 36 times their value during the dark days of the Internet bust, when they traded for less than $1.

Sohu, which started in 1996 as the first Chinese-language search engine, surprised critics by turning profitable in the third quarter of last year. For the second quarter of 2003, it posted a stunning $7.5 million profit on $19.3 million in revenue. But the climb has not always been smooth. During the shake-out following the dotcom crash, shareholders questioned the company’s heavy dependence on banner-ad revenue. Hostile board members and disgruntled investors wanted professional management to replace him. Zhang says his nonconfrontational style helped him hold on, but the experience “was the worst sort of psychological torture.” Short-messaging service, which helped the company turn around and generated total revenues of $750 million in China last year, now accounts for 48% of Sohu’s revenues.

Zhang, who holds a Ph.D. in physics from M.I.T., sees parallels between his recent attempt to scale Everest and his near death business experience: “The temperature was subzero, with winds threatening to blow my tent over, and I was constantly out of breath. But as bad as it was, I’d sooner do it all again than repeat what I went through after the bubble burst.” Is he out to climb more mountains? Undoubtedly; he’s not afraid of heights. –By Kaiser Kuo/Chengdu

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