GoDaddy’s new CEO on leadership now: ‘Change is a tiger’

The company logo and ticker for GoDaddy Inc. is displayed on a screen on the floor of the NYSE in New York

By Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan

NEW YORK (Reuters) – GoDaddy CEO Aman Bhutani often returns to a question his parents asked him as a child – one that is especially applicable now.

“‘How do you ride a tiger?’” asked Bhutani, 44, a native of New Delhi. “The answer is: You ride a tiger on its neck. And the reason is that if you ride the tiger on its tail, when it goes right, you go left, and when it goes left you go right. So there’s a whiplash every time.”

“Change is a tiger,” added Bhutani, who joined the webhosting company in September 2019 from Expedia.

In 2020, GoDaddy experienced significant growth – adding 400,000 net new customers in the second quarter and again in the third quarter. “They’re the biggest quarters we’ve ever had,” Bhutani said.

Bhutani chatted with Reuters about the lessons he learned – and imparted – in these changing times. Edited excerpts are below.

Q. What was an early lesson you learned about money?

A. The rule in my house was, when you got your first paycheck, you came and gave it to your father. He put it in the bank.

You don’t work for money. You don’t work to buy things — that idea was taught to us. That thing of instant gratification and making your first paycheck and buying something, as amazing as it sounds to me now, at that time, it was different.

Q. What’s it like to be a new CEO in this environment?

A. I had a bit of luck in that I had lived through the great recession, and there was some learning in that time. The simple advice on dealing with extreme situations is you want to reduce the space between decision-makers and the information.

In late March, we were doing calls four times a day from the morning to late at night – if we heard from the leaders in China on how something had developed in the morning call, we implemented that change in Europe. And when we had that call later in the day, if there was new information, we implemented it in the U.S. That allowed us to really react quickly and keep our staff safe.

Q. What have been some big changes in your industry since March?

A. We are very fortunate to be part of the digitization wave. We know from the data that if we look at ecommerce as a percentage of commerce, that wave had been growing year after year.

Now we’re seeing that convergence of online and offline commerce. People use online and offline – to buy something online and pick it up – in a manner that they weren’t before. The best part is everyone is suddenly doing it. It’s not just early adopters. We’re not going to go back to how it used to be.

Q. What is your work-from-home set-up?

A. We set up a space in the basement where I can pull down a green screen when I have to do TV. I now have more equipment in this household than in the GoDaddy office.

My daughter is almost 12, and my son just turned 7. Generally, I travel a lot, so being home has been nice. I worry that their expectations have risen. If I do a call at 9:30 at night, I might get a look from my daughter now because she’s thinking, “You’re supposed to be spending time with me right now.”

Q. Any new work habits in 2020?

A. Once a day, if I have a Zoom call or one of my one-on-ones, I’ll say, “I’m taking you outside – forget the video, let’s just talk.” And I’ll put on a big jacket and go for a walk. It just gives you a little bit of energy.

Change is like a mini vacation for your brain, and when you’re jumping from Zoom call to Zoom call to Zoom call, with the constant same screen and same view, you’re missing that part. If you interrupt that, it puts you in a better mood. It makes you think differently.

(Editing by Lauren Young and Nick Zieminski)