Ask Jeeves Making CEO Switch

Ask Jeeves will start the new year with a new CEO. The Emeryville, Calif., company said president Steve Berkowitz will succeed “Skip” Battle in the top job.

“Steve is steeped in the intricacies of search,” Battle said in a conference call. “More of the credit for our progress is due to him than to me . . . He’s the natural to be our next CEO.”

Battle will become executive chairman and will advise Berkowitz on strategy, mergers and acquisitions and investor relations.

Jeves’ CEO move comes during a time of change in the search industry. Google is prepping for an IPO that should give it an influx of cash, and Microsoft is working on its own search initiative.

The Redmond, Wash., company recently hired Paul Ryan, former CTO at Overture, to lead the effort. And last week, news leaked that Microsoft had approached Google about a partnership or takeover.

Berkowitz said Microsoft’s entry proves the viability of the market. He also said Jeeves is working on building an independent company. But at the same time, Battle said its always been the company position to entertain and weigh offers.

An early investor in the company, Battle took the CEO post in December 2000, at first, as an interim appointment.

In Berkowitz, Ask Jeeves has a known quantity. Since joining Jeeves in 2001, played a key role in acquiring and integrating Teoma Technologies, which significantly upgraded the company’s technology to battle with industry heavyweights Google and MSN. He also helped bring Jeeves’s UK partner into the company. He also helped redesign Ask.com, the company’s flagship site.

Previously, Berkowitz was CEO of Intermap Systems, an online content provider focused on consumer health care information, and as president and COO of IDG Books.

Berkowitz said one of his priorities was building its middle-management ranks and will also work to improve its technology in a bid to get more users to adopt Ask.com as its daily search site.

Berkowitz also praised Battle’s performance. And indeed Jeeves’ results have been improving. During the third quarter it posted a profit thanks to a jump in online advertising and saw queries increase.

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