Executive Conversation Series
Managing career change with integrity – David Schirmacher
I’m not encouraging job change. Quite the opposite, in fact. Numerous short tenures are a sign of instability and failure. Consistent tenures of 3 to 6 years demonstrate predictable and proactive professionals willing to explore new experiences and become more durable thinkers and performers. Professional growth feeds personal growth and often is rewarded with financial growth. Lather, rinse, repeat. When your next change opportunity presents itself, consider using David Schirmacher as a model in how to conduct the transition with grace and class.
A few months into his new role with Digital Realty we caught up with David and discussed his journey from Goldman Sachs to Fieldview Solutions to Digital Realty. After a 12-year tenure as VP, Global Head of Engineering and Critical Systems at Goldman Sachs, he joined Fieldview Solutions as chief strategy officer. Not very long after joining Fieldview, David was presented with the opportunity to join Digital Realty as its SVP Operations.
Dave and I discussed the exceedingly sensitive nature of how those changes were handled. Our conversation reminded me of Dean Nelson’s change from Sun to eBay a couple years ago. His ‘letter to the industry’ was the absolute epitome of consideration and respect for his employers, his colleagues, and the industry in general.
A unifying theme ties all three companies where David has worked. His role at Goldman Sachs encompassed design construction and operations. The key to success was his ability to empirically demonstrate KPIs all the way down to cost metrics and usability and validate how he addressed each item. David referenced Steve Fairfax of MTechnologies and their “science of making decisions.” He borrowed Deming’s “What you can’t measure you can’t manage.” David’s quest to quantify and his altruistic efforts to the data center industry as a whole are what led him to Fieldview.
David’s job at Goldman Sachs included managing an almost inconceivable budget. He took personal pride in the reputation of integrity he achieved in his division with the ecosystem of product and service providers clamoring for attention. He also repeatedly demonstrated that humility was a strong weapon in a historically ego-driven environment. He would often deflect finger pointing by simply taking the blame and suggesting how to move on using people’s energy to solve a problem rather than going to war. Big mistakes at Goldman Sachs typically are met with a bullet. David defied convention by standing in the firing line, where he played the bank account of credibility and integrity he had built over time. But how many people have the courage, conviction, and intestinal fortitude to leverage them? It takes a focus on a larger purpose.
Early in his tenure with Goldman, David identified the need to tie IT, facilities management, and operations closer together. Fred Dirla, CEO of Fieldview Solutions, and Dave set to work on building a solution they came to realize had value across the data center industry in what is now more broadly recognized as data center information management (DCIM.) Fred had a great deal of character, his integrity was apparent, and a friendship developed. Fieldview Solution’s DCIM solution grew organically while solving practical challenges David had in utilizing intelligence across the enterprise to address power and cooling efficiencies and resulting rationalizations for capital expenditures.
David remained as interested in the benefits to the industry as a whole as to Goldman alone. David’s impact internally at Goldman Sachs was significant but relatively small when considering the industry as a whole. When Fred was approached with capital to grow Fieldview, the friends discussed the notion of David joining Fieldview. If David joined Fieldview, it could be a purposeful conduit to transfer the lessons learned at Goldman Sachs to multiple companies. Fred reinforced the notion, they worked out a deal, and David joined Fieldview Solutions as chief strategy officer.
David’s initial charter with Fieldview was to help retain core customers. They built existing and evolving functional roadmaps with accompanying time lines of release dates. They launched the value proposition to new prospective clients and unleashed sales to execute the plan. David helped build processes that prepared Fieldview to remain an enduring success. Little did they know they were building the scaffolding for David’s future departure.
The SVP Operations opportunity with Digital Realty came unsolicited and was interpreted purely as a networking effort. Curious as ever David asked about the role in consideration for a colleague, but the more he listened and learned about Digital, the more intrigued he became with the company. The key objective was to stabilize operational organization so Digital can scale as it continues its aggressive growth plans. He hadn’t realized their size and scale as the largest collective data center footprint on the planet. His purposeful altruism kicked in and kept kicking. What a challenge to put this measurable toolbox mentality to the test and to build a standard considering the different regions, climates, designs, customers, and work cultures. What a stage to determine the design impact of UPS systems for reliability or demonstrate performance metrics for 800 generators operating simultaneously.
Given that the opportunity with Digital Realty morphed into an increasingly attractive role, David thought, “Is it possible to even consider doing this without hurting Fieldview? David eventually approached Fred with the conundrum. Fred reassured that at the time, it was compelling enough to make a go. He agreed that while it was a good ride, it was evident David wasn’t completely comfortable on the service side of the business. In his typical noble manner, Fred offered. “How do we find a way to get you where you want to be? I know there will be damage but how much is unknown. Let’s try and map it out.” David was overwhelmed with relief. Fred reinforced David’s incredible impact to the Fieldview organization in a short period of time. “We could live five years with the roadmap you’ve created in only two weeks.”
David and Fred dove into their “damage management priorities” and forged a communications plan with clients to ensure they knew this was a proactive, strategic decision. To its credit, Digital Realty delayed its press release more than a month in consideration of Fieldview’s communications plan. In January 2012 it was announced: David Schirmacher joins Digital Realty, the world’s foremost data center laboratory, to benefit the future of the industry. Of course, with everything else going on, his simultaneous succession to president of 7x24 Exchange in January 2012 was timely.
David remains very active and accessible in industry. Very few people met David at Fieldview for the first time. He forged enduring relationships from the Goldman Sachs days. He remains accessible to Fieldview for opinions and thoughts. David values these relationships tremendously. They validate and reinforce that good business done the right way is very powerful.
Generically this all ties back the level of appreciation for the integrity of the valued relationships we create, covet, and keep. Strategic career management starts with and stays with integrity. Respect your constituents and they will respect you. Maintain strong relationships. When you make your next change, will you be telling a story or telling it like it is? Now that’s defining!