30 June 2020 | Melanie Mingas
Colt’s newly appointed CEO Keri Gilder shares the details of her strategy to future-proof an international data centre and connectivity businesses, from customers and employees, to potential acquisitions. Melanie Mingas reports.
Resilience, continuity, crisis mode — when it comes to business lexicon, there is a newfound emphasis on survival as organisations around the world grapple with a raft of unknowns against the backdrop of a global health emergency.
Thousands of businesses are currently engaged in continuity and futureproofing plans, but for the businesses that keep the world connected those plans take on a new importance.
At Colt, recently appointed CEO Keri Gilder is doing just that: preparing the business for a future that nobody knows the size or shape of. Yet it’s a task she’s taking in her stride.
She says: “First and foremost, it’s about looking at the organisation and making sure it’s fit for purpose for the future of telecommunications. When you become a CEO the first thing you have to think about is your employees and your customers. My employees are extremely important and the good news is we have a solid base, a solid strategy and foundation to build upon.”
And Colt’s foundations are accustomed to thriving through change. In 2015, Colt’s largest shareholder, US asset manager Fidelity, offered £1.90 a share to take the company private.
Fidelity had been a significant backer since Colt was founded in 1992, in particular when the firm listed on the London Stock Exchange in 1996. However, the deal resulted in Colt going private and what followed would reshape the company’s strategy and global reach, taking it into the hyperscale market and new geographies.
Joining Colt in 2018 as CCO, Gilder has already worked across the firm’s sales, presales and marketing arms. Now she takes responsibility for executing Colt’s strategy to transform the way the world works through the power of connectivity.
“What I’m really looking to do is augment a few areas of the business and a few areas of strategy in order to truly take us into the future,” she says.
The specifics of those augmentations will be revealed in due course, but in planning the next move Gilder is keeping a close eye on several trends, among them cloud and the growing demand for automated services flexible enough to turn bandwidth up or down within hours.
Further — and a ripple effect of the ongoing pandemic — Gilder predicts the recent rise in cloud migrations compared to on prem will continue, hand-in-hand with the drive towards automation, as businesses remain wary of their potential fragility in an unprecedented economic environment.
Gilder’s strategy will also examine services that could be required mid- and post-pandemic, to enable customers around the world to continue operations. When it comes to gaining capabilities in these new areas, an acquisition is not off the cards.
“We are always looking for innovative technologies and organisations out there. If I look at trends in the industry right now, a major one is around automation and software and creating capabilities that enable a reliable and secure service to our customers, and also one that is fully transparent in regards to the way that it operates.
“So, we will be looking for skills around automation.”
On the type of customer Colt will look yo serve, the earlier focus on hyperscalers will be replaced with a more comprehensive mix, as Gilder explains: “I actually think the data centres will be more of a combination in the future for hyperscale business and large enterprise, as well as SMEs that just need that easy product.
“That will probably most likely happen through a hyperscaler or cloud provider themselves, but I do think we will see the start of more migration into data centres and into the cloud by large enterprise,” she continues to predict.
As CEO, Gilder takes the reins from Carl Grivner, who she credits with creating a “great foundation” to build upon, and under whose leadership Colt has already undergone a significant expansion, launching operations in several new locations.
In 2019, data centre operations launched in India making Colt the first mainstream western operator to enter the market. Today, Colt’s first 100MW hyperscale data centre in Mumbai is under construction and elsewhere in Asia-Pacific design for a facility in Osaka — as well as the operational launch of Japan’s Inzai 3 data centre — are both underway. On 1 June, Hiroshige Sugihara was named the new VP for the Asia-Pacific region.
Meanwhile in Europe, the Colt IQ network expanded to connect major hubs with more than 7,000km of new fibre infrastructure, while Colt DCS has expanded operations in London (where capacity has doubled), Paris, Hamburg and Frankfurt since 2016. Today Colt operates 17 data centres across the continent.
Arriving in the US in 2018, Colt debuted by connecting 13 major cities to its Asian and European metro networks, including New York, San Francisco and Chicago, with the list still growing. In addition, Colt today has three transatlantic and three transpacific subsea cables to service both coasts of the US, with each delivering 100G capacity.
“We will continue to look at where to expand and we will take a market-based view to ensure that we are aligning our next expansion to where our customers need us,” Gilder says.
Thirst for knowledge
A talented network architect, engineer and leader, Gilder has many skills to bring to the role of CEO, however it’s her interest in continued personal development that she credits as the standout factor.
“It was one of the major attributes that made it possible for me to be considered and selected for this position: the ability to learn and the ability to adjust as the dimensions change throughout the various technologies, the solutions and the years.
“Regardless of what level you are at in an organisation, technology in the industry is moving so fast that there will always be a need to learn,” she adds.
The week Gilder’s appointment was announced was an important week for all female CEOs as the number of women running Fortunate 500 companies was confirmed to have reached a new record high. Unfortunately, it was a high of only 7.4% — a total of 37 of the 500 companies — and raised more questions than celebratory glasses. Is it due to a lack of visibility? Is there an inherent gender bias that persists across the world of business?
It’s important to note that there is more than one route to the corner office; whether it’s via sales and operations, marketing and business, or specialist skills coupled with the ability to inspire a team. Due to her own career path,
Gilder is a proponent for the STEM route and the knowledge-building culture it promotes.
She says: “At the start of my career I was actually architecting and building teams that built networks. That technical skill for me has been the foundation for me to be successful, now to CEO level. It gave me a foundation that I think is critical
“What STEM gives you as you move into these areas of the business that are more science related, more learning orientated as far as problem solving goes, STEM gives you a great foundation to be successful in management positions later on if you have career aspirations to ultimately be a CEO one day. It doesn’t really matter what your functional area was in university, it’s the ability to learn,” she adds.
Diversity and inclusion at Colt goes beyond gender and the firm has implemented a five pillar strategy supported by specific initiatives focused on confidence building, armed forces career transition, graduate training, mentoring and supporting transgender employees, among other areas. As Gilder notes: “It’s one thing to have the capability but it’s another thing to be considered.”
Bringing forward internal talent will be key as Gilder assesses Colt’s future capabilities and she hints that this could bring more appointment news over the coming months.
“We have a very talented group of individuals [at Colt], so we will be able to have a leadership team and an organisational structure very soon that is fit for purpose for the future, but also is a mix of internal talent that I believe is quite strong.”
There are clear parallels in the energy and focus Gilder brings to her resilience building both in and out of business and, considering how well the strategy has served her career to date, Colt looks set to continue its growth trajectory.
As the old adage goes, failure to prepare is preparation to fail and in preparing Colt for the future, Gilder is leaving no stone unturned.
“There is no one telecommunications, cloud, data centre or hyperscale company that has every geography or every element of the total solution. If we keep working together, we will continue to be seen as critical infrastructure for the world as a whole.”