This interview with Blake Irving, C.E.O. of GoDaddy, a domain name and web hosting company, was conducted and condensed by Adam Bryant.
Q. Tell me about your early years.
A. My father was an F.B.I. agent, so I grew up all over the place. I was one of four kids, and we probably lived in eight different places by the time I was 6, so I built up a resilience and friend-making capability. I was very comfortable talking to people; I didn’t care if they were 50 years old or 5.
I was always comfortable putting myself out there and doing things that were different. I followed things that I liked, and I didn’t care if other people liked them or not. I don’t consider that to be a leadership trait. It’s just that if you’re passionate about something and you’re gregarious and you connect with other people, you kind of bring them along.
I also drummed a lot. I was playing in some big bands, rock bands, marching bands, and I wrote and I taught. It was a very important part of my life.
How have your parents influenced you?
My dad was a very eclectic guy. He was a child star in Hollywood. He started playing jazz. He got his law degree, went into the F.B.I. and then became a district attorney. When he retired from that, he became a musician again. That ability to recast yourself over and over, and find something you love and pursue it, is something I’ve always tried to do.
My mom mixes intensity with warmth. She connects with everybody she meets, produces a very safe environment for them to tell her things, and then kind of helps them move closer to what they could do. If I did 25 push-ups, she would say, “That’s wonderful. Could you do five more?”
Did you have a specific career plan when you went to college?
I had no idea. I went into school as a business major, but I didn’t like it, and I wasn’t good at it, frankly. I was good at art, though. I ended up taking some graphics classes and fell in love with typography.
Then a classmate who was working on typefaces at Xerox said she was leaving the job. The company was digitizing typefaces in a lab, and I thought, “This is incredible.” I worked there full time as I went to school.
Had I not become an art major, that never would have happened, which was ironic. But that pushed me into an environment of working for a larger company, of getting a paycheck.
Early leadership lessons for you as a manager?
I’m what I call a “happy aggressive” person. So when I do things, I’ll say to people, “Come on, let’s go do this and go after something.” That has gotten me into trouble a couple of times.
I had a boss who said to me, “You are pushing so hard on the things that you want to get done that you’re driving some of the people around you crazy because you’re just so manically focused. You’re not bringing them with you.”
That’s how I was growing up. When I did things, and people couldn’t keep up, I didn’t care. But the boss said to me, “Hey, do you smoke pot?” And I said, “No.” And she said, “You ought to.” That was pretty funny.
This is your first C.E.O. role. Did you always want the top job?
No. It just wasn’t on the list. I like getting things done. I like building things that matter. I love working with great people. It doesn’t mean you have to be a C.E.O. to do it.
What I have found really interesting, and what I like about it, is that when you’re the C.E.O., you get to set a tone from your seat that’s different than if you’re working within an organization.
That ability — to actually shape the culture, talk about the things we’re going to do, how we’re going to treat each other, what we want our values to be — is different. I didn’t realize it until I was in the seat.
Give me an example of what’s important in your culture.
I’ve been a champion of women in technology for a while. This stems back to my youngest sister, who passed away in her 30s. She was a psychologist and psychology professor at Washington State, and one of the foremost researchers on the effects of the media on women’s body image and self-esteem, and their relationship to bulimia and anorexia, which she had as a kid.
My pledge to her was that I’d do everything I could in my field to advance women and try to help. Technology has been pretty unkind to women. Less than 20 percent of software developers today are women. They don’t leave high school wanting to be a software developer, they don’t leave college wanting to be a software developer, and so we have a pipeline issue.
We have published not only our diversity numbers, but also whatever the pay equality is between the two. We’ve done an analysis of how many women actually matriculate into more senior engineering roles.
How do you hire?
I’ll ask questions like, “What are you passionate about? What’s your leadership style? Why do people like to work with you? What’s the kind of person you like to work with?”
I want to know that they work hard. I want to know that they’re superproud of things they did. I want to see them admit a couple of mistakes at some point. You want to know if they own outcomes, that they have things that they absolutely love to do and that they’re capable of really throwing themselves at them.
What advice do you give to new college grads?
Work on something you love, and never let it be about you, because everybody in the room’s going to know it and they’re not going to trust you because of it.
Your intent should be to get the work in front of you knocked out with your team, have fun doing it and be a great person to work with, rather than having it be about you, your career, your next gig.