A Decade of Growth and Making History at Equinix, a CEO’s Perspective

Chief executive Steve Smith reflects on what’s changed – and what hasn’t – during his first 10 years at Equinix

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It’s been a decade this month since I took over as chief executive officer of Equinix, and I’m extremely grateful for the opportunity I’ve had to lead this business through exciting, transformative times. On paper, a lot has changed at Equinix since 2007. But for the most part, our culture and values have stayed the same, and I think that helps explain our success.

The day I started, I joined a company with a uniquely strong culture, driven by a committed leadership team and employees, all energized about executing a brilliantly simple and durable business model based on delivering interconnection. That’s all still true today.

But if you check the numbers, Equinix looks like a completely different company. In 2007, our annual revenues were $419.4 million and we operated 43 data centers in 18 metros in 10 countries, with 1166 employees. In 2016, our reported revenues were $3.6 billion, we’re currently operating 150 data centers in 41 metros in 21 countries, and our workforce is presently 6,000 strong.

Yet it’s clear to me that we are who we are today because, in important ways, we’re still who we were. We’ve been committed since our founding to putting the customer first and enabling the interconnection they need everywhere. That’s why we grew to 150 global data centers. And it’s why, 10 years from now, I predict Equinix will continue to lead the industry.

Nothing was broken

I came to Equinix after leading a $16 billion business unit at HP. Equinix was just a fraction of the size of that unit, but the company was looking to scale globally. They needed someone who could lead that growth, and it was clear to me they were ready to do it. At the time, Equinix was several years past the dot.com bust and gaining momentum, the company’s perspective was global, and the business results were excellent.

But the culture was the clincher. The culture just blew me away.

It was authentic, gritty, smart and fun. These were big thinkers who just got stuff done and had a good time doing it. And the combination of an entrepreneurial sales culture and a highly disciplined operational culture meshed nicely. Nothing was broken, it was the opposite. After I started, I remember telling myself, “Please figure out how to build on this culture.” I knew there was great momentum here, and basically thought, “Don’t screw it up.”

The three Ls

A set of leadership principles called “The three Ls” have guided me since the military service that followed my graduation from West Point, and I’ve applied them throughout my years at Equinix.

First, listen. This is the heart of good communication. In the military, I learned that listening was just as important as decision-making because good decisions can’t happen without it. Good communication must be fast, frequent and filterless. I want to foster radical transparency inside Equinix. Listening is at the core of all of it.

Next, learn. Ten years after he stepped down as Equinix’s CEO, Peter Van Camp (we call him PVC) still sits across from me, and he’s part of everything we do. I know Equinix didn’t start with me, and it isn’t about me. The people who built this company, from the executive team to each and every employee, had something to teach me when I began, and they still do now. Our customers are also an invaluable resource for learning. We exist to serve them, and I try to make sure we don’t forget that when we’re considering new strategies, new expansion, new solutions. We need to know what the customers want, learn from them, then execute.

Finally, lead. I’m a consensus guy. It’s important to me that everyone’s views are heard and considered. But everyone doesn’t have to agree. At some point, as the leader, I know it’s time to cut off the conversation and move forward. If the consensus is that we proceed in a direction some people don’t agree with, they can’t opt out. We all move forward together. It’s worked at Equinix because people here generally trust each other, they trust their leaders and they’re proud of the place they work.

Keeping a winning business model fresh

Equinix just marked our 56th straight quarter of growth. It’s a 14-year streak that precedes my tenure, and which I hope to continue well into the future. That’s because our culture and leadership team remain strong, and our business model is more relevant than ever.

Equinix started out offering interconnection to the networks that formed the early internet. We gave them a neutral place to exchange traffic. But the internet hasn’t stopped growing, and the advent of technologies like cloud and the Internet of Things is expanding the global need for the interconnection we specialize in at an astounding rate. As the demand for interconnection grows, the infrastructure and equipment that powers it needs to be everywhere, and so do we. It’s a huge opportunity, and we’re better positioned than any other data center company in the world to take advantage of it. But we also know we can’t take the opportunity for granted.

The pace of change today is faster than I’ve ever seen it. The question I’m asking our people is, “What do we need to change to extend our business model and make our growth last?” I’ve seen companies get stuck in the way things are and lose simplicity and adaptability. Their ideas become old and they don’t realize it. We can’t let that happen.

Making history

I talk a lot about how Equinix will be remembered as an historically significant company. I know that sounds ambitious. Five years ago, people I met often thought I ran the health club company, Equinox. But that’s rapidly changing. I’d argue we’ve already earned a place in the history books, even if not everyone knows our name just yet. But I believe they will.

We helped scale the internet. We play a critical role in what the Googles, the Facebooks, the Amazons are doing today. Equinix is an essential partner to the companies that are setting the pace for the entire digital world.

As I look ahead, I know we have the potential to be remembered as one of the companies that enabled the cloud to become “real” globally, or helped the IoT move from a concept to a central driver of business, or helped bring to life any other tech trend you can name. I want to be in the middle of what makes it all work. And I’m deeply thankful for the time I have already spent at the center of all that opportunity, helping people and companies connect to it, here at Equinix.

 

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