Why Ask.com's CEO left to join Microsoft

The accolades for the new CEO of Ask.com, the Oakland, Calif.-based search engine formerly known as Ask Jeeves, were just beginning to roll in last spring when the call came from Redmond. Microsoft was interested in hiring Steve Berkowitz, Ask.com's chief executive, to turn around its faltering online operation. Berkowitz, 48, thought over the offer […]

The accolades for the new CEO of Ask.com, the Oakland, Calif.-based search engine formerly known as Ask Jeeves, were just beginning to roll in last spring when the call came from Redmond.

Microsoft was interested in hiring Steve Berkowitz, Ask.com's chief executive, to turn around its faltering online operation.

Berkowitz, 48, thought over the offer for about two weeks. He had competed against Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer in the past.

Berkowitz asked himself, "Do I want to work for them?"

Berkowitz spoke with the Mercury News about why he agreed to become the senior vice president of Microsoft's online business group and how he plans to pull off the biggest turnaround of his career. An edited transcript follows.

Q: Why did you join Microsoft? In what areas did you think you could make a difference?

A: I loved what I was doing at Ask, but there was just a fundamental limitation to what I would be able to accomplish there in terms of my ability to influence the industry as a whole.

I got a call from Microsoft and then went up and met with Steve and Bill. I really hadn't thought about moving. But I realized I have maybe one or two big steps inside of myself and this was a playing field I felt you can't turn down. Microsoft needs to turn around. It's got the resources to turn around. Why not give it a shot?

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Microsoft, Ask.com, Steve Berkowitz, Article