GoDaddy is trying hard to distance itself from the racy Super Bowl ads that made it famous--not to mention controversial, widely accused of sexism, and a target of boycotts.
But Bob Parsons won't let the domain-name pioneer he founded change its reputation that easily.
"You want to have an ad that people are going to talk about," Parsons, who stepped down as GoDaddy's executive chairman in June but remains on the board, said Thursday.
While addressing attendees at the Inc. 5000 conference in Phoenix, Parsons spent much of his speech celebrating the ads. He showed the first such commercial that GoDaddy aired in 2005, featuring a woman narrowly avoiding a "wardrobe malfunction," and called a later installment, featuring Nascar driver Danica Patrick in a shower with another woman, "one of my finest moments."
They were also, as one critic recently described them, "the commercials that women clearly articulated to be objectifying and over-sexualized." That was current GoDaddy chief executive Blake Irving, writing in Fortune this month about "why women are so turned off by the tech industry."
It's more than a simple disagreement over marketing strategies. Irving is trying to take GoDaddy public, and the company's lingering reputation as the purveyor of "worst of the worst in terms of sexist ads" has the potential to hurt its market value.
The company listed its "controversial" commercials as a risk to its business when it declared its plans to go public in June. It said in a regulatory filing that if GoDaddy does not successfully "reposition" its brand, "our business and operating results could be adversely affected."
Of course, GoDaddy might have more immediate concerns. The recent selloff in the stock market has made GoDaddy consider postponing its IPO until 2015, Bloomberg reported on Thursday, citing unidentified sources.
This is the second IPO attempt for GoDaddy, which Parsons tried to take public in 2006 before canceling that plan for similar reasons. He eventually sold a majority stake in the company in 2011, though he remains its largest shareholder to this day.
Parsons declined to comment Thursday on the current IPO, though he acknowledged that the process in general has little appeal for many business owners.
When "you go through the process of becoming a public company, you have all sorts of regulations you have to comply with, reports that must be prepared, and analysts you have to answer to. And all that you don't have to do normally, it adds a significant layer of complexity to operating the business," he told me during a video interview before his on-stage appearance.
"The time that you spend on all those different processes and requirements are times that you don't spend on your business, so it really increases the challenge," Parsons added.
He also rejects the suggestion that his controversial commercials could damage the company's future. "They were long-term branding establishment, and they were very successful," he told me.
During that interview, Parsons also responded to a question about sexism in the tech industry by disputing that any such culture exists at GoDaddy--at least in terms of pay disparities.
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella this month became the latest tech executive to demonstrate, at best, a lack of understanding of the systemic discrimination facing women, suggesting that women not ask for raises in order to have "good karma."
But sexism in tech was also a topic discussed by GoDaddy CEO Irving in Fortune, who wrote that in the industry in general, "the environment we've created in tech is simply off-putting to most women."
Parsons has a different perspective, at least at his company. "Sexism in tech was never there for me, even during the height of my edgy commercials," he told me during the video interview. (Watch the full video interview on sexism in tech below.)
"Most of my executives were females; the highest paid executive in my company was a female, and the others were right next to her. We made sure that was across the board and there wasn't any sexism in that respect," he said, without naming specific names.
(One of Parsons's longtime top deputies, former GoDaddy legal counsel Christine Jones, is now campaigning to be the next governor of Arizona; Parsons has given more than $1 million to a group supporting her candidacy.)
Parsons wrapped up his response about sexism in tech with a pitch, in characteristic colorful language:
"If a female is at a company where she's not being paid what she should be paid, come to GoDaddy," he said. "We'll take care of you."