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Bill Wagner Moves from COO to CEO at StrongMail


By Ken Magill

Bill Wagner has been named chief executive officer at email service provider StrongMail. Wagner was previously chief operating officer. He succeeds outgoing CEO Sam Cece.

Wagner said the change has been in the works for months and was prompted by Cece’s wish to explore new opportunities.

“Sam and I joined the company at the same time, literally weeks apart, in late 2005, and Sam and I had worked together for a decade at BEA Systems,” Wagner said. “When Sam joined the company, it was very small and his goal at the time was to grow the company ten-fold.

“After seven years, he’s more than done that,” said Wagner. “And at the end of last year, he said: ‘I want to chart a course for myself to explore other opportunities.’ … That’s when he began to turn over the keys to me. … It’s my first time as CEO but I feel like I’ve been doing it since the beginning of the year.”

Cece will remain with the company as an advisor “for the foreseeable future,” said Wagner.

Wagner is taking the helm at a company that was chiefly known as an email technology provider—essentially selling the hardware and software to companies so they could manage their own programs—but in the last few years has evolved into a full-blown email service provider.

“Our heritage is in email infrastructure,” said Wagner. “And the infrastructure was great but marketers really needed an application layer to take advantage of all the performance and deliverability characteristics of it.”

So in 2006, StrongMail released its first application, Wagner said. “It caught on, primarily because of its simplicity,” he added. “As the business grew and we invested more and more in it, we saw that the growth potential in the company really lied with delivering a more feature-rich application.”

In the transition from serving primarily an IT customer base to serving marketers, StrongMail established a client-services division and acquired three marketing-services agencies:

The company acquired Magnetik and Conversa Marketing, both based in New York, in 2010 and combined them to form a social CRM agency called ThreadMarketing. StrongMail acquired Chicago-based email marketing consultancy Email Advisor in 2009. The three have since been combined to form StrongMail marketing services.

“We have effectively fully transitioned to becoming an ESP,” Wagner said. “Historically, you would come to StrongMail if you wanted an on-premise solution. But that’s really not what businesses come to us for today. Sure, there are some people who want it on-premise, but the majority of our business and the fastest-growing piece of our business is on the on-demand realm.

“We’re still giving them their own dedicated instance of the product but they’re not taking possession of the product,” Wagner said.

As for the future, Wagner said: “My goal is to build a high-growth company that people love to work for. And that’s not a cliché because I invest a lot of time in the executive staff and a lot of time in building a culture in which the right people will thrive.

“The single most important thing I can be doing is acquiring and developing passionate team of people,” he said. As for the types of people he is looking for, Wagner said it is imperative they understand the email marketing industry from having either worked for a vendor or on the client side.

“But passion is the most important thing,” he said. “Passion is key to us.”


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