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April 21, 2006

CEO of Ask.com moves to Microsoft

By Charlene Li

Just in - Steve Berkowitz, CEO of Ask.com (acquired by InterActiveCorp last year) is moving to Microsoft to head up their MSN.com, search monetization, and new Live.com platform. Below is a copy of the email I received from Microsoft confirming the rumors that had been circulating around the Web.

Steve will specifically heading up MSN.com, MSNTV, MSN Internet Access, and most importantly, the business side of the new Live.com platform. Most of the reactions to the announcement have been "Wow". I thought I'd extend the discussion with a couple of quick thoughts:

- This is not necessarily a loss for Ask.com. It's recent gains in traffic (thanks to some nice interface innovation and neato technology in search refinement) shows that Steve is leaving on a high note. I don't think Ask.com is going to be at a loss without him, primarily because he's done such a good job there in building a team.

- This is a logical move for Steve, especially now that Ask.com is moving into a new role at IAC. He's built a solid team at Ask.com, but it is going to become more of a platform and technology base for IAC, in addition to its role as a search destination. What he did well at Ask.com is exactly what he needs to do at Microsoft -- come from behind and take on the big guys at Google and Yahoo. The big difference -- he'll have a MUCH bigger budget and talent pool at his disposal!

- This is a high visibility move for Microsoft, showing that it's investing in leadership for its search and portal products. MSN.com has languished for years, especially in its branding and positioning of the portal against Yahoo.com and AOL.com. Bringing in a high profile outside hire like Steve is going to further bolster MSN.com and Live.com's status within the Microsoft organization. It's a smart move -- it was expected that someone would be named soon since David Cole (who runs MSN.com) had announced that he was leaving for a year-long sabbatical. But by hiring someone with Steve's experience and status, rather than promoting from within, Microsoft is showing that it wants to do things differently.

- Most importantly, Microsoft is taking a very important step in putting ALL of the hot consumer products under one team. Live.com is at the core of Microsoft's turnaround -- it represents fast development cycles and a totally new approach to addressing the marketplace. At the same time, Microsoft can't turn its back on the advertising juggernaut of MSN.com. In the past year, there's been uncertainty about how MSN.com and Live.com will work together. Having them all come together under Steve will be a first step in addressing the concerns of the MSN.com group while maintaining Live.com's momentum.

So, what do you think? Was this a good move on Microsoft's part and will it make any difference to have Steve leading the charge?

Email from Microsoft's PR firm, Waggner Edstrom:

I am so sorry for the Friday afternoon fire-drill, but rumors are circulating about a new MSN hire and I wanted to get you accurate information as soon as possible.  Microsoft has hired Steve Berkowitz as SVP of the Online Business Group. He will be responsible for running the Online Business group, which includes include MSN.com, MSNTV and MSN Internet Access programming, advertising sales, business development, and marketing for Live Platforms, MSN and Windows Live.  This team’s mission is to deliver world-class go to market leadership, that wins customers to our services and builds a world leading advertising business.  The responsibility for the monetization of our Live Platform, MSN and Windows Live assets is owned by this team, and includes end-to-end management of the online P&L.

As you know, Steve is an accomplished senior executive with a rich skill set, including brand building, marketing operations, people management, finance and tech.  Please know that PressPass will be updated shortly with additional information, so please check back shortly.  Feel free to call if you have any questions. 

I am pleased to announce that Steve Berkowitz will be joining the Platforms and Services Division (PSD) as Senior Vice President, Online Business Group, reporting to me. Steve succeeds David Cole, who will begin his leave of absence in May.

Most recently, Steve was the CEO of Ask.com, a division of IAC/InterActiveCorp. At Ask, Steve is credited with building the management team that orchestrated the turnaround of Ask.com, grew their user base, increased customer satisfaction, and gained share in the search market over the last year.

Steve is an accomplished senior executive with a rich skill set, including consumer brand building, media, marketing, operations, people management, finance, and technology. He also brings a great blend of start-up and high growth business experiences. Prior to joining Ask, Steve was the President and COO of IDG Books, where he successfully built a consumer brand by expanding the "Dummies" series of books to cover topics ranging from C++ to pet care.

Steve’s management experience, deep functional knowledge of the search and Internet space, and understanding of both the offline and online publishing worlds make him a great choice to lead the Online Business Group. He is a proven leader, and is excited by the opportunity to take the assets we’ve built in MSN and drive our software + services vision forward.

Steve will start this assignment on May 8th. David Cole and I will work together to ensure a smooth transition to Steve.

Please join me in welcoming Steve to Microsoft, and thanking David for his contribution to the company and to MSN.


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When Google hired away a Microsoft executive, Microsoft sued Google. I wonder if Microsoft will now sue itself for hiring Steve Berkowitz away from ASK.



That is a great question. Microsoft did get pretty upset about Google hiring Kai Foo Lee. This does seem like the exact same situation. In fact, this is even more directly competitive, because Kai Foo didn't even work on MSN Search.

Here is the difference. California has very weak non-compete laws, while WA state has strong non-compete laws. So it is much harder for a company in CA to sue if an employee of their's joins a competitor.

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