W. Michael Long, who in 2002 led a new management team at Realtor.com’s parent company in the wake of a financial scandal and management shakeup, has retired from Realtor.com-operator Move.com with the arrival of a new CEO.
Steven H. Berkowitz, the former CEO of search site Ask.com — which was purchased by InterActiveCorp in 2005 — is the incoming CEO for Move.com, which operates the most popular U.S. real estate search site.
Berkowitz has served on Move’s board of directors since June 2008. Move is formerly known as Homestore. The company rebranded in 2006.
Before driving a revenue expansion at Ask.com, Berkowitz served as president and chief operating officer for IDG Books, a company that offers "for Dummies" book titles, as well as the "Frommers" and "Cliff Notes" series. He oversaw an initial public offering for IDG during his time there, and annual revenues expanded from about $25 million to $200 million, Move reported.
Most recently, from 2006-08, Berkowitz served as senior vice president of the Online Service Group for Microsoft Corp. — that group is responsible for Microsoft’s online advertising business, including content and ads on Live Search, MSN and Windows Live.
In an interview with Inman News on Wednesday, Berkowitz said he believes his skill set is a good fit for Move Inc. "Having a search background is tremendously important in the space we’re in," he said.
As for the real estate downturn, Berkowitz said he sees parallels to the car industry. Millions of homes are still being sold per year — just like millions of autos will still be sold this year despite slumping car sales.
Both industries may just need to become more efficient, he said, to cope with the changing business environment, he said, adding that he sees the potential for Move to play a role in improving the real estate industry’s efficiency.
His immediate goal, he said, is to listen to Move staff to get up to speed about the company’s needs. "There is a great team of people here, executing in a difficult environment. I get a chance to actually get educated about what needs to be done, and develop what I consider an objective set of goals and strategies and measures."
Outgoing Move CEO Long, 56, was one of the last remaining members of a management team that took over after an accounting scandal rocked the company earlier this decade. Long had replaced Stuart Wolff, who resigned in 2002 as chairman and CEO for Homestore.
Prior to joining Move, Long was president and CEO for The Continuum Co. Inc., CEO for Healtheon Corp., and chairman for WebMD Inc. after that company merged with Healtheon.
Wolff and 11 former Homestore officials were convicted for participation in illegal schemes that contributed to Homestore’s financial problems, including the restatement of earnings. Wolff’s conviction was tossed out in January by a panel of judges for the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
Move announced in March 2008 that Allan Dalton, hired as Realtor.com president in 2002 and reassigned to a secret Move Inc. project in 2007, had resigned. And Jack Dennison, who also joined Homestore in 2002, resigned in September 2007.
Lewis R. Belote III, who joined the company in 2002 as chief financial officer, remains in that role.
A Move shareholder group, The D3 Family Funds in March 2008 called for the dismissal of Long and Belote in March 2008, blaming the managers for a large investment in auction-rate securities. That investment, which had been tied up with the tanking financial markets, amounted to about $130 million, or 74 percent of the company’s cash and short-term investments, according to Move.
David Nierenberg, a representative for The D3 Family Funds — now the largest Move Inc. shareholder — said in a statement Wednesday that the shareholder group supports the management change.
"We support the decisions announced today and we look forward to years of success with Move," Nierenberg said.
He expressed confidence in Move President Lorna Bornstein, brought aboard in 2007, who he said "has added tremendous value in modernizing and upgrading Move’s Internet capabilities.
"The company is now well-positioned to take advantage of substantial market and competitive opportunities," he added.
Joe Hanauer, chairman of Move’s board of directors, said that the board and Long "have been working on succession planning for some time" and that Berkowitz’s experience operating consumer-focused technology businesses and "deep knowledge of content delivery and his comprehensive understanding of the changing advertising and operating environments" would be valuable.
Hanauer also credited Long for joining the company "at a pivotal time." He "was instrumental in leading the company through a very difficult turnaround," Hanauer said.
Long said in a statement that Berkowitz "has the credentials and experience" for his new role.
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