Ask Jeeves Names Berkowitz CEO

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Steve Berkowitz will become chief executive of search engine Ask Jeeves on Jan. 1, succeeding Skip Battle, the company said yesterday.


Berkowitz also will join the Emeryville, CA, company's board of directors. Battle, who served as CEO since December 2000, will replace Garrett Gruener as board chairman. Gruener, a co-founder of Ask Jeeves, will remain on the board.


The move to promote Berkowitz comes as Ask Jeeves looks to solidify its position as a viable alternative to the giants of search: Yahoo, Google and MSN. Berkowitz served as president of Ask Jeeves' Web properties division from May 2001 to July 2003, when he became president of the company after Ask Jeeves sold off its enterprise search division to focus solely on Web search.


"To lead this company forward, we need somebody steeped in the intricacies of the search market and [who] can take us to the next level," Battle said in a conference call. "More of the credit for our success is due to him than to me. He knows the search marketplace better than anyone I know."


Battle said he would stay involved in building the middle-management ranks at Ask Jeeves.


Ask Jeeves has cast its lot fully with search, stripping other ad units from its Ask.com site and focusing on building its Teoma search technology. Berkowitz said the company's continued success would be built on creating a more user-friendly search experience, making improvements along the lines of its "Smart Answers" search shortcuts introduced in August. Smart Answers give users instant information to searches for things like "weather in San Francisco."


The paid search industry's success has buoyed Ask Jeeves' business. In the third quarter, it reported rising profits and robust growth in its paid listings business, which depends on a partnership with Google. Last quarter, queries at Ask Jeeves rose 33 percent from the same period a year earlier.


"We're sitting in a position where we have the assets and strength to grow in this marketplace," Berkowitz said.


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