Ask.com is shaking up its executive suite. Parent company IAC announced several top management changes on Thursday as it takes additional steps toward organizing its assets into five publicly traded companies. IAC will spin off HSN, Ticketmaster, Interval International and LendingTree.
The shake-up includes a new CEO at Google rival Ask.com. The departing CEO, Jim Lanzone, quit after six years at the helm, and will hand the reins to Jim Safka, who will oversee Ask.com's global operations and continue on as CEO of Primal Ventures, a new-venture entity that identifies, seeds and incubates business opportunities for IAC.
"Jim Lanzone was the principal executive responsible for Ask.com's turnaround over the last two years. His passion for innovation and his everyday dedication to the business and its people have been everything anyone could ask for," Barry Diller, chairman and CEO of IAC, said in a statement. "He is a superb executive and leader and I'm hopeful we can be associated in the future."
Musical Dot-Com Chairs
Lanzone joined Ask.com in 2001 as vice president of product management. Previously, he co-founded eTour, an early provider of information retrieval and cost-per-lead services on the Web. Ask.com acquired eTour in May 2001. Lanzone will now serve as entrepreneur-in-residence at venture capital firm Redpoint Ventures. However, Lanzone will work closely with Safka during the transition and will remain in an advisory role at Ask.com over the next few months.
Safka, 39, served as CEO of Match.com from 2004 to 2006. Under his leadership, the company grew revenue and operating income at an annual rate of 25 percent and 52 percent respectively. Today, Match.com has more than 15 million members in 35 countries. Prior to Match.com, Safka held senior management roles at AT&T Wireless and E-Trade, as well as brand- and product-management positions at Intuit, Alberto-Culver, Warner Bros. and Paramount Pictures.
Scott Garell has been named president of Ask.com. Since 2005, Garell has been CEO of IAC Consumer Applications & Portals. Peter Horan, CEO of IAC Media and Advertising since January 2007, will continue to oversee IAC Advertising Solutions as well as Evite, Pronto, IAC Mobile and Ask Sponsored Listings.
The Shake-Up's Impact
The shake-up may ultimately improve Ask.com's chances of competing against Google and other search rivals. However, Sterling Market Intelligence Analyst Greg Sterling said the changes may cause some stress on the company in the near-term. "Lanzone's leaving is a loss for Ask. It's not to say Safka can't be an effective CEO with some different ideas and strategies, but it's hard to imagine he is going to be able to do anything dramatic to improve Ask's solutions," Sterling noted. "And there's a risk, of course, that you will lose continuity."
Under Lanzone's leadership, Ask.com launched Ask 3D, a dramatic redesign of its interface and some back-end upgrades. Sterling called it a bold effort to grab the marketplace's attention by doing something different. Ask 3D customizes each page for each different query based on relevance and on what previous searchers on Ask found valuable for that query or one like it. Search results also included all content types.