Scott Turicchi never envisioned himself to be the president of a thriving tech company. He had been a banker by training. “Put me in a room, give me lots of data and I’ll analyze them,” he said. “I’m a shy person.” After five years at the helm of J2 Global Communications Inc., first as chief financial officer then co-president, he has become a fast-talking executive who spends very little time buried in numbers. “Fifteen years ago, if you would have told me that I would spend most of the day directing and communicating, it would have scared me to death,” he said. Turicchi was first brought in as an investment banker from Donaldson Lufkin & Jenrette Securities Corp. to raise money for the then startup in 1997. He was hired as a full-time employee two years later. Today, Hollywood-based J2 Global is a $220 million company with 400 employees that has made 16 acquisitions to date. But its beginnings were humble. The company was the brainchild of 25-year-old German rock star Jaye Muller, who came up with the idea of creating a fax-to-e-mail system over his frustration with missing messages during a European tour. The Business Journal sat down with Turicchi in his Hollywood office, which is decorated with a portrait of Pope Leo XIII, for a conversation about his faith, family and the art of taking a scrappy startup and making it into a multimillion-dollar public company.
Question: Is this what you envisioned you’d be doing when you were young?
Answer: I actually wanted to become a consultant after graduating from college. But during the final round of an interview with McKinsey, they told me I would make a better investment banker than management consultant. The interviewer connected me to a vice president at a local investment banking firm and I got hired. I had no idea that would lead me to becoming the president of the only nonbanking operational company I’ve ever worked at.
Q: Where did you grow up?
A: Huntington Beach.
Q: Do you have a favorite memory of your childhood?
A: We moved there when I was 7 years old. We lived a few miles away from the beach, but back then, we had a clear view of the ocean over the bean and strawberry fields. Now, that area is fully developed with houses, apartments and shopping malls. I was an only child and was out on the street playing most of the day with kids in the neighborhood. My father was a commercial banker and my mother was a teacher who became a full-time mom when I was born. It was just a normal, happy childhood.
Q: Did you decide to become a banker to follow in your father’s footsteps?
A: He shared with me his business acumen, but it was never forced. I’ll never forget the time when I was in college he arranged for me to spend a day at a trading desk of the bond department at California Bank. There were no computers at the time, just white boards with writing on it, telephones ringing and people yelling. He’d also take me to conferences and they’d let me hang out in some meetings. Those experiences shaped me.
Q: What was the toughest stretch of your career?
A: As a young investment banker, I was very good analytically. No one cared whether I could write or speak well. Then came a point when I made VP I knew there was an expectation of bringing in business. I had never thought of myself as a sales person. Getting comfortable with spoken and written communication was very important to preparing me as a CFO and later president.
Q: What do you do to unwind?
A: When you have three small girls, you don’t unwind until late at night. When I get home, it’s dinner time, bath time, story time, bed time. And then dealing with whoever doesn’t want to go to bed. When all of that’s done, I might have a little block of time. My wife may spend that time editing as she is in the midst of producing some documentaries. That’s my time to read.
Q: What are you reading right now?
A: I read almost all nonfiction. I just finished a book this morning on Pope Benedict. I like to read biographies about people, church history. Because my wife is doing these documentaries about Pope John Paul II, I read a fair amount about his life, his times.
Q: So faith is a big part of your lives?
A: It’s very important to us. We found some outlets through the John Paul II Cultural Center in Washington, D.C., and North American College in Rome, which is a seminary for those who want to become priests in the United States. We sit on their boards and generally help out with whatever they need.
Q: What specifically?
A: Every charitable institution needs money. So it can start there, but we also like to understand how we can assist furthering whatever their mission is beyond just writing a check. Since my wife used to work in the entertainment industry and I am in the technology space, we often help them make better use of technology and media so they can better get their message out.
Q: Is this how your wife began producing documentaries about Pope John Paul II?
A: We had an opportunity to have dinner with Cardinal Maida, the founder of the John Paul II Cultural Center. As he was telling my wife about his first meeting with John Paul II, my wife said, “You have to tell your story on camera.” We did a pilgrimage from Rome to Krakow and interviewed Cardinal Maida at a library just outside Krakow. She used that interview to create a 10-minute video on the organization’s mission statement that’s shown at the center. And now, she’s working on a one-hour documentary about how when John Paul II came to Rome, he brought Poland with him.
Q: Is your wife a professional documentary producer?
A: She does this as a hobby. But she used to work for DreamWorks, editing and selling videos to secondary markets, like airline companies and hospitals.
Q: What is your proudest achievement in life?
A: Personally, of course, it’s my daughters. In business, it’s being a part of this team at J2 Global. Looking back, it’s a story that could never have been written in its early days. People said in 2000 we were going to go bankrupt. People said in 2004 we’re a nice domestic company, but we’ll never be international. Watching J2 navigate all kinds of stuff we’d never have anticipated has been rewarding. To become this successful, with over a million paid phone numbers and $220 million in revenue last year, and a cash balance to do M & As; that, I believe, is rare.
Q: Few people were using e-mail in 1994. How did a German rock star make his idea fly as a business?
A: Jaye Muller was using e-mail to send newsletters to fans. He quickly realized digital networks were location independent. But he was also using faxes to communicate with people during tours. So he wanted to get these faxes that come over an analog network to be compatible with digital networks. After the tour, Muller and his business manager decided to recruit some talent to solve this problem and came up with the original code. They put up a physical presence in London and New York, and basically transmitted the first fax via e-mail from one point to another. Like Alexander Graham Bell and the telephone. They proved it was doable.
Q: Was this a German business? How did it take off in the U.S.?
A: Muller was residing in the U.S. and the company was founded in New York. They leveraged his celebrity status and benefited from a lot of free publicity in the early days of the company, with articles in magazines ranging from Rolling Stone to Forbes.
Q: How did you get involved?
A: I was an investment banker at DLJ, brought in to raise a round of $15 million in private financing. I made a personal investment then and later was elected to the board. In late 1999, shortly after the company went public, I got hired.
Q: How big was the company back then?
A: In 1999, there were a lot of companies in the messaging space all trading at $1 billion in valuation. It didn’t matter what the revenues were. We were trading at $250 million. I was telling analysts back then that we were no more or less advanced than anyone else, so shouldn’t we be worth the same? By the end of 2000, I got my wish. We all traded at the same value. But it was 25 cents.
Q: Since then, how has the Internet software and services industry evolved?
A: Pretty dramatically. The biggest shift has been for small businesses and their access to core functionality. Before, only the largest enterprises in the U.S., with internal IT expertise, could afford to buy the latest computer systems and manage them. Now, you can get tech infrastructure, e-mail and fax systems without knowing anything on the function level. All they have to do is pay a monthly subscription fee to companies like us and they get all that.
Company: J2 Global
Born: 1963; Whittier
Education: B.A., with concentration in math and economics, Claremont McKenna College
Career Turning Point: Joining J2 Global Communications after being a consultant for two years
Most Influential People:
Mentors Richard Ressler, chairman of J2 Global; and Ken Moelis,
Hobbies: Spending time in
charitable work and collecting papal memorabilia, such as a baseball signed by Pope Benedict XVI
Personal: Moved to Santa Barbara recently with wife Lannett and three young daughters, Kristina Maria, Karinna Teresa and Kassandra