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Infoseek names Motro CEO

Fighting to move ahead among the crowded field of search engines, the company names Harry Motro its new chief executive.

Infoseek (SEEK), which has been fighting to move ahead among the crowded field of search engine companies, today named a new chief executive.

Harry Motro, Infoseek's president, will replace Robin Johnson as CEO and board member.

In a move that surprised his colleagues, Johnson resigned from his position immediately but will serve as a company consultant for a few months during a transition period. He joined the company in 1995.

Motro joined Infoseek last month from CNN Interactive; he founded the unit and its three Web sites--CNN Interactive, CNNfn, and All Politics--in 1994.

"Rob did a good job in building the first story on the house. Now, it's time to build the subsequent stories to the house and build a skyscraper," Motro said. He noted Infoseek did not offer him the CEO position when he was offered the president's position.

"It was a surprise, unexpected when Rob said he's leaving," Motro said. "He said things accelerated faster than he thought they would."

As president Motro took over daily marketing and sales operations, while the company's chief financial officer, Leonard LeBlanc, was named to the newly created position of chief operating officer.

Motro said his new role will be to increase branding opportunities and create "effective strategic marketing relationships." Motro said specifics are to come.

Another issue on Motro's plate is developing a product strategy.

"In the Internet space, I've seen people roll products into the market and, rather than have a product strategy, they have an idea and say, 'let's roll with it,'" Motro said. "But in this space, it's an industry that is maturing quickly and we'll need to have an integrated product strategy that's sensitive to marketing. That's critical."

It's too early to release details of how the company will execute those plans, he said.

In sizing up the competition, Motro said the other search engine companies may have brand awareness but there is no brand loyalty.

"If we do our jobs right, if we let the world know of our great products, then they'll switch," he said.

Infoseek last month reported a slightly larger first-quarter loss than Wall Street had anticipated. The company posted a loss of $4.1 million in the March quarter, which was larger than its year-ago figure; it also marked three consecutive quarters of widening losses.

Meanwhile, first-quarter revenues were $6.1 million, up from $1.7 million a year ago and flat with the previous quarter. First-quarter revenues, however, tend to be one of the weaker quarters after the busy Christmas period.

The company's stock has also been on a downward slope since January. The stock, which closed at 10-3/4 on January 23, has slid by 43 percent to close at 6-1/8 today, up 3/16. Infoseek made its CEO announcement after the market's close.

Analysts have questioned how Infoseek will grow to be profitable. The search engine firm derives the bulk of its revenues from advertising, which in turn is spurred by traffic to its site.

"Although Infoseek has announced a lot of new partnerships and alliances, we believe it is still unclear how the company will reach critical mass," said Keith Benjamin, an analyst with Robertson Stephens.