Berkowitz Had Hoped To Turn Around Microsoft, But May Find Himself In “Turnaound”

According to CNET, Microsoft isn’t waiting for the Yahoo acquisition to happen before it reorganizes. Several internal groups are slated for leadership change, and Steve Berkowitz, former CEO and current SVP of Online Services for Microsoft, is apparently part of the changes.

After a successful run and rebranding at Ask, Berkowitz left in April 2006 to join Microsoft. He was interviewed by the San Jose Mercury News about his decision:

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?

He was also famously interviewed by the New York Times in December 2006:

“I’m used to being in companies where I am in a rowboat and I stick an oar in the water to change direction,” said Mr. Berkowitz, who ran the Ask Jeeves search engine until Microsoft hired him away in April to run its online services unit. “Now I’m in a cruise ship and I have to call down, ‘Hello, engine room!’ ” he adds with an echo in his voice. “Sometimes the connections to the engine room aren’t there.”

(As the quote above suggests, the article also offers some insight into the potential challenges Microsoft faces in its attempt to acquire and assimilate Yahoo’s assets.)

It was starting to become clear by April 2007 (during Berkowitz’s interview with Danny Sullivan), that he had diminished expectations about what could be accomplished. Even though all the “we’re going to be number one” rhetoric was present, his energy and tone communicated fatigue to me. My sense at the time was that he wasn’t going to be able to achieve some of the goals he identified in the New York Times piece.

The CNET article above points out that in recent months Berkowitz saw some of his duties shifted to Satya Nadella and aQuantive’s Brian McAndrews. There’s been a fair amount of shifting and turnover at the executive levels as Microsoft tries to better compete online for consumers and ad dollars. And if the Yahoo deal goes through, there may be a good deal more.

Related Topics: Channel: Industry | Microsoft: Business Issues | Microsoft: Employees


About The Author: is a Contributing Editor at Search Engine Land. He writes a personal blog Screenwerk, about SoLoMo issues and connecting the dots between online and offline. He also posts at Internet2Go, which is focused on the mobile Internet. Follow him @gsterling.

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