Gone, daddy, gone: KKR veteran Scott Wagner ditching Sand Hill Road for GoDaddy

GoDaddy.com isn’t based in Silicon Valley, but it’s become one of the more high-profile consumer Internet brands thanks to its rather tawdry Super Bowl ads featuring NASCAR’s Danica Patrick. But since taking a reported $2.25 billion leveraged buyout from KKR and Menlo Park’s Silver Lake in 2011, the Scottsdale company has been growing up.

The web-hosting outfit’s homepage has gotten less sexy, emphasizing the small business customers it helps set up in cyberspace. In December, GoDaddy tapped a veteran of Yahoo and Microsoft to be its CEO.  And on Wednesday, the company announced that Scott Wagner – a longtime KKR executive who’s about as buttoned-down as they come – is joining up in the dual roles of COO and CFO. Scott Wagner

“I got hooked,” Wagner told me, noting that he’d scrubbed in as GoDaddy’s interim CEO for several months last year following KKR’s investment. As he worked to show new Chief Executive Blake Irving the ropes, Wagner said, the two realized they share a lot of complementary traits — and a vision for GoDaddy to become “a top tier Internet company, and one that is respected as such.”

Still, it’s unusual to see a guy move from the world of high-stakes tech investing to an operating role. Wagner spent 13 years at KKR, where he ran North American operations for the firm’s Capstone division. From Menlo Park’s Sand Hill Road, Wagner’s team works with companies in the buyout firm’s portfolio to whip them into shape make them more efficient.

Wagner does have previous operating experience, having spent two years running a $500 million division of magazine publisher Primedia. Of the transition back into a hands-on role, he said, “Honestly, it’s pretty seamless.” (Full disclosure: Wagner and I were college classmates, although I didn’t know him then — probably because he played varsity football and I, let’s just say, did not.)

I asked Wagner about Irving’s comments to the New York Times on dialing back the sexy — some would say, sexist – TV ads. He didn’t disagree, but he added: “A brand isn’t a TV commercial. I’ve talked to more than 500 of our customers, and they’ve said things like, ‘You’ve made a profound difference in my life.’ That’s a brand.”

Wagner’s hiring is just the latest sign of GoDaddy’s sinking its hooks further into the valley: The company last year bought Outright, a Mountain View startup that helps small businesses manage their finances online. And Wagner predicts GoDaddy this year will roughly double the 65-person headcount in its Sunnyvale offices. He himself won’t be relocating full-time to Scottsdale, keeping a place there while his wife and kids remain in the Bay Area.

Then again, Irving commutes to work from San Luis Obispo, so Wagner’s one-hoppers from the valley to PHX shouldn’t feel like much in comparison.

 

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