Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Before we dive into our discussion about disruption, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?
Growing up in a family deeply rooted in education, I was naturally inclined towards community service and educational initiatives. This background served as a stepping stone into real estate, a sector I found to be a logical extension of my interests. About two decades ago, I took the entrepreneurial leap, starting with residential properties and eventually expanding into data centers.
I’ve discovered a unique blend of real estate and technology in my current role. The data center industry is complex and often misunderstood, even within large corporations. We focus not just on the technology inside these centers but also on navigating the real estate and community aspects. This holistic approach aligns with our mission of creating high-impact, technology-driven developments that yield financial returns while making a positive social impact.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Our company uniquely sits at the crossroads of commercial real estate and cutting-edge technology. We’re not just chasing trends; we’re investing in assets that thoughtfully incorporate future-facing technology. This is crucial in an industry that has been historically slow to adopt technological advancements.
We pride ourselves on being disruptors in a young industry often plagued by groupthink. Our team isn’t afraid to ask the tough questions, challenging the “we’ve always done it this way” mentality. This curiosity allows us to explore new avenues that others in the industry might overlook.
But what truly sets us apart is our commitment to social impact, which has been a core value since our inception. Unlike companies that prioritize profit and then retroactively consider community impact, we’ve integrated social responsibility into our business model from day one. We believe that data centers should be not just in communities, but of communities. This philosophy is increasingly important as we see communities push back against developments they don’t understand. Our approach aims to bridge that gap, making us not just a real estate and technology company, but also a community partner.
You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
Curiosity Without Judgment: One of the pivotal traits that have guided me is a relentless curiosity. This trait was instrumental when I ventured into real estate, a field in which I had no traditional background. Despite the skepticism and outright laughter from my business school classmates, my curiosity drove me to learn, adapt, and eventually succeed. This open-minded approach has allowed me to navigate through uncharted territories effectively.
Tenacity: Entrepreneurship is a grueling journey, regardless of the scale. Whether you’re running a lemonade stand or a data center, the challenges are real and often overwhelming. My tenacity has been my anchor, especially when the path seemed unclear or the obstacles appeared insurmountable. This trait has helped me stay rooted in my “why,” enabling me to push through the hard times and come out stronger on the other side.
Cautious Optimism: Entrepreneurs are natural problem solvers, and while optimism is essential, it must be balanced with pragmatism. I’ve always approached my ventures with a sense of cautious optimism. This mindset has been crucial in assembling a team of experts, like Clune and T5, who complement my skills and share my vision. This blend of optimism and practicality has helped me turn challenges into stepping stones.
Leadership often entails making difficult decisions or hard choices between two apparently good paths. Can you share a story with us about a hard decision or choice you had to make as a leader? I’m curious to understand how these challenges have shaped your leadership.
In my entrepreneurial journey, I’ve found that leadership is not a birthright but a skill honed through facing challenges. One pivotal moment came when I had to make a tough call in my first real estate venture. My high school friend initially proposed the business idea but was not meeting the work ethic required to drive the business forward. Despite the emotional ties and his foundational role, I had to part ways with him to ensure the company’s success. This decision was not popular or easy, but it was necessary. It taught me that leadership often involves making hard choices that may not please everyone but are crucial for the greater good. This experience has been a cornerstone in shaping my leadership style, emphasizing accountability, and willingness to make difficult decisions. It’s a constant balancing act, where the survival of the many outweighs the comfort of the few. Leadership, in essence, is about making those tough calls.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. Let’s begin with a basic definition so that all of us are on the same page. In the context of a business, what exactly is “Disruption”?
In business, “disruption” is the seismic shift that changes industries or creates new ones, often driven by technology or novel problem-solving. It’s not just innovation; it’s making existing solutions obsolete. In my industry, disruption is both a necessity and a strategy. It’s essential for staying relevant and competitive. Personally, I’ve embraced it by promoting a culture of continuous learning and calculated risk-taking. It requires courage, conviction, and a dash of “controlled craziness” to believe you can do something unprecedented and then actually doing it.
How do you perceive the role of ‘disruption’ within your industry, and how have you personally embraced it? Is it a necessity, a strategy, or something else entirely in your view?
In the data center industry, disruption is both essential and strategic. It’s vital because the field is ready for innovation; without it, we risk falling behind. Conversely, it’s a calculated move that demands careful planning. I’ve personally embraced this by fostering a culture of calculated risk and continuous learning. We actively pilot new technologies and collaborate with experts to stay ahead. So, for me, disruption is not just a buzzword; it’s a balanced equation of necessity and strategy driving us toward ongoing innovation.
What lessons have you learned from challenging conventional wisdom, and how have those lessons shaped your leadership style?
In challenging conventional wisdom, I’ve learned that adaptability, strategic disruption, and resilience are key. Being malleable has helped me navigate industry changes and become a more empathetic leader. I’ve also realized that disruption is essential for innovation but must be strategically planned. This insight has made me focus on the importance of foresight in leadership. Surprisingly, I’ve found that support often doesn’t come from where you’d expect. This has taught me the value of internal conviction, something I strive to instill in my team. These lessons have collectively shaped my leadership style, equipping me to guide my team through the complexities of our industry with a balanced approach that values adaptability, planning, and learning by listening.
Disruptive ideas often meet resistance. Could you describe a time when you faced significant pushback for a disruptive idea? How did you navigate the opposition, and what advice would you give to others in a similar situation?
Navigating the complexities of the data center industry with a disruptive idea was bound to meet resistance. Initially, we thought traditional real estate strategies would work, but we quickly learned that wasn’t the case. Instead of being immobilized by the pushback, it lit a fire under us. We remained flexible and open-minded, continuously keeping our ear to the ground. This doesn’t mean we wavered in our beliefs; rather, we listened to insights from customers and partners to navigate our way to success.
The experience taught me that your strong sense of purpose and belief can turn skeptics into mentors and cheerleaders. But this transformation requires hard work; your work ethic must match the scale of the disruption you’re aiming for. So, if you’re facing opposition to a disruptive idea, use it as motivation. Be open to feedback, but remain unwavering in your purpose.