Jeffrey Katz, the founding CEO of Orbitz a decade ago, says he spent his first day on the job today as CEO of metasearch-engine NexTag in San Mateo, Calif., getting accustomed to his new surroundings and feeling happy to have "the opportunity to get involved in a very healthy Web company."
At Orbitz, in addition to pioneering direct-connects with the online travel agency's founding airline owners, Katz and his fledgling company created something of a stir on the Web -- and in Congress -- because Orbitz had something Expedia and Travelocity -- or in those days, Travelocity and Expedia -- didn't: Web-only fares, i.e. the airlines' best, exclusive deals.
Katz, who served as president of American Airlines' Sabre division and later as Swissair president and CEO from 1997-2000 in the run-up to the founding of Orbitz, says he will be charged with driving profit and global scale at NexTag, a comparison-shopping engine for everything from mortgages and electronics to wine and office products.
And, oh yes, NexTag does travel metasearch for air, hotels and cars.
Asked if he envisions NexTag competing in travel metasearch with former employee Steve Hafner, who heads Kayak now, but led business development and product marketing at Orbitz under Katz in its first few years, Katz laughed and said NexTag's travel offering is "super small."
Katz says NexTag's future in travel is one of the many things that he will be assessing.
For his part, Hafner says "Katz is a great catch for Nextag. They are nascent in travel search but we hope to see their presence expand."
So, how did the founder of one of the premier OTAs in the U.S. end up at a metasearch player?
Katz left Orbitz in 2004, when Cendant acquired it as one of the centerpieces of its travel distribution services division.
In 2005, Katz became a board member of Leapfrog Enterprises, an educational product company, and served as president and CEO since 2006, leading the company's restructuring. With his move to NexTag, Katz has taken over as executive chairman of Leapfrog.
Katz says he's known the co-founder of NexTag, Purnendu Ojha, since Katz's days at Orbitz, and their dialogue heated up in the past couple of years, ever since Providence Equity Partners invested in NexTag. Katz's taking the CEO role at NexTag coincides with Ojha's retirement as president and CEO.
Midway through his first day on the job today, Katz recalls the "many" lessons he takes from his tenure at Orbitz.
He says "the strength of the team" is key, as is technology, which he terms "super important."
Katz says NexTag has "incredible expertise" in search.
In another key area for any company, Katz argues that Orbitz did "reasonably well" in thinking ahead about its future.
So, now it's time for the airline-turned-OTA-turned metasearch guy to plot NexTag's next steps, as well.