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Ask.com Shuffles Its Executive Deck

In advance of a major reorganization at IAC/InterActive Corp., Ask.com has announced a shakeup of its top executives.

Jim Safka, the former CEO of Match.com, will take the helm as the new CEO of Ask, IAC's Internet search property. He will replace Jim Lanzone, who joined Ask in 2001. Lanzone is leaving to take a position as entrepreneur-in-residence with the venture capital group Redpoint Ventures, but will continue to assist with the transition for the next few months, IAC announced.

Scott Garrell, who has been serving as CEO of IAC Consumer Applications and Portals, will step in as the new president of Ask.

IAC Chairman and CEO Barry Diller said that the executive shuffle is merely another step in the run-up to the unbundling of the unwieldy media conglomerate whose diversified holdings had raised serious concerns over operating efficiencies among investors and analysts. In November, IAC announced its intention to spin off HSN, Ticketmaster, Interval International and Lending Tree, creating five publicly traded companies from one.

"These changes are intended to strengthen and streamline the operating structure at IAC, both leading up to our intended spin-offs, and beyond," Diller said in a statement about the Ask executive shakeup.

A source familiar with the changes said that Lanzone left on his own volition to pursue the opportunity at Redpoint, but that some personnel adjustments at Ask had been planned in advance of the spin-off, which is expected to be completed by the summer.

The spin-off will allow IAC to re-center itself around the search engine, which IAC spokesman Jonathan Sanchez told InternetNews.com will be "front and center" in the consolidated company. Sanchez referenced Diller's comment that Ask would become the glue that holds IAC's companies together. IAC acquired the search engine in 2005, when it was still known as Ask Jeeves.

Positioning a popular Web property like Ask as the engine of growth for IAC is a good strategic move, according to Morningstar analyst Sumit Desai. In a December investment advisory, Desai praised IAC's spin-off plans.

"Ask.com can position its search results to direct more traffic to IAC's other sites," Desai wrote. "We think overall sales will grow about 7 percent annually for the next five years, driven by modest growth in the retailing business, offset by continued rapid expansion in the media and advertising segment (including Ask.com)."

This is not the first time IAC has cut a business loose to consolidate its operations. In 2005, IAC spun off Expedia, a move which analysts applauded.