An occupational privilege I never take for granted is access to a variety of organization’s strategic charters and the senior executives who define them. My last column looked at Tim Caulfield’s journey to CEO of American Internet Service (AIS) in San Diego, CA. This time we we’re catching up with Chris Crosby, post-Digital Realty Trust (DLR) and pre-Compass Data Centers, his current venture.

chris crosby
Chris Crosby

Chris Crosby’s name is, for the time being, linked to DLR, which he co-founded, led to prominence, and used to define the industrialization of data center design, construction, financing, and ownership. Prior to DLR, Chris was founder and managing director of Proferian, the technology-related leasing platform within the GI Partners portfolio, which was rolled into the IPO for DLR. Prior to Proferian, Chris served as a consultant for CRG West, now Coresite. For the first ten years of his career, Chris was active in international and domestic sales, sales management, and product development at Nortel Networks, as an aside to multiple other early entrepreneurial ventures.

When I first found myself in the data center industry in 2006 Chris Crosby’s name was everywhere. An athletic figure, he was hardly an 800-pound gorilla, but he was the face of DLR and therefore becoming more prominent. This recognition made Chris popular and even harder to approach. He was a busy businessman with lots of demands on his time. Chris was an icon with all the answers and carried himself with a certain earned confidence that bordered on brash arrogance. Interesting how people can be defined by the image of the organization for which they work. Even more interesting is meeting someone outside work and realizing that your initial perceptions were very wrong and that you might have fallen for a stereotype.

I pled guilty as charged as I opened up our conversation.

AJL:Chris, given your professional success to date, what’s left on your bucket list?

CC:Professionally, I’m already enjoying the freedom of thinking clearly about building a brand again. I get to figure out my own personalized approach based upon all of my experiences and the input of incredibly bright friends and colleagues. It’s freeing and fun. It’s almost like a disease when you want to have ever-increasing responsibilities.

Personally, things have been great with this last summer off. I’ve had time to reflect on the fact I’ve had one blessing after the next in this life. I’ve gotten to see a lot of more of my wife and two kids. I’ve been coaching my kids’ sports teams. I’ve had date nights with my wife. Generally, it has been a much better balance for me, which is what I focused on accomplishing near term. Still left on the bucket list, is the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro AM….

AJL:Our very own “Data Center Genie” (picture Bill Mazzetti?) arrives in a puff out of a generator and grants you three wishes for the data center industry. What do you wish?

CC:One, humility. We need to realize that our industry behaves like a child in its early teens. You know the times that you think you know everything but you really don’t? Don’t get me wrong; this is obviously a great industry to be in, but think about how many new ideas that have already been done in other industries are being re-created here. We tout all these “new technologies” like we created them and own them. Modularity. Air-side economizers is free cold air. Hot- and cold-aisle separation has been done in fab space for years.

Two, recognition. This is an industry that is going to require a different breed of athlete with different skill sets, such as process engineering. We need to promote its growth and success early to professionals as a career in order to keep growing at the rate we can.

Three, transparency. We need to start opening up to customers and facilitating allegiances and alliances. We need to help educate each other.

AJL:What do you see going on that you like?

CC:Everything about the space. Lots of capital in love with the fact that it is a high-cash flow, asset-based business. It is becoming mainstream. There is a tremendous energy and vibrancy to it, and it’s great to be a part of it and know why it’s going on. There aren’t too many careers where you get to be a part of something that is completely new.

Here I am getting a chance to go around again. I had a whole summer off where I fielded a lot of phone calls and gained a lot of perspective. It was healthy for me. I got disassociated from the personalities of the business and now have a clear refreshed perspective on the business potential. The result of this will be Compass Data Centers, essentially bringing rapidly deployable, highly customizable wholesale solutions to emerging markets. One thing I have learned is that I’m much more valuable and much happier at the growth stage. I’m not so good nor do I want to be managing the $1B to $3B in revenues stage.

AJL:Consider a 40 under 40 list in the data center space. You would have made the list. Who would make it now?

CC:I’m not going to touch that one. Too many I might leave off the list and have that interpreted the wrong way.

AJL: Company movers? Who’s hot?

CC:There are a lot of impressive companies, small and large, with some neat concepts out there. I love what Softlayer has done with their toolsets and provisioning—investing in an area that has lacked it. Innovative, not an also-ran play. Impressive company. Equinix is, too. They are very good at scaling the business, which requires doing major things well at an organizational level. They have also achieved a ubiquity of brand. Digital is, of course, impressive with their industrialization, maturity, and continued growth. i/o isn’t your run-of-the-mill company. Tony and George have something new and exciting going on. Rackspace continues to be a cool leader in transforming to a new customer cloud-based model. There are many others considering that IBM and Digital each own less than 3 percent of the market, based on an IDC calculation of total data center sq. ft. in the billions.

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We chatted on about issues inside and outside the industry. The conversation turned back to golf and the then-looming 7x24 conference in Phoenix in November. During a particularly pleasant “good walk spoiled” with friends, I learned Chris not only has a good heart but a great soul. Before the round, we chatted about where in world he had played. “All over” is the short answer, but I figured it was all business entertainment and coercion. Not so, just a successful son taking his dad on a couple of long trips to get away.

As I approached the first green it sounded like someone’s ringtone on their phone was going off for an inordinately long time. I learned it was Chris but not his phone. He brought a little boombox and ipod which we enjoyed over the next 4 hours, and, to a man asked each other, “Why the hell didn’t we think of this before?” Leave it to Chris to innovate, to lead with quick paces, a father, husband, and son, to look ahead and defy convention. You learn a lot about a man when you hear his music. I’m still waiting for that playlist and we’re all looking forward to seeing what’s next for Chris Crosby.