There he was, shiny helmet sitting atop the freshman’s new shoulder pads, all covered by a newly issued Drake University practice uniform. Steve Manos was a highly rated and perhaps over-touted outside defensive lineman recruit, at 6 foot 2 inches, 220 pounds, with a 4.6 forty-yard dash! The phenom’s arrival was supposed to marked a new era in Drake football, reminiscent of the Reggie White’s leading a resurgence of the NFL’s Green Bay Packer franchise. 

Steve was intent on making a name for himself, validating the press and high expectations. Quarterbacks wear red pinnies at practice so as not to become target fodder for salivating defensive linemen. But today was going to be different. Today Steve Manos was going to impress. An offensive line shift left Steve unmarked outside the offensive left tackle. The ball is snapped, what an adrenalin rush. He charges unblocked on a direct path to the quarterback. He’s within arm’s length. He launches.

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Steve Manos 

 

Steve winds up lying flat on his back, looking through his face guard at the clouds above the practice field. The pulling guard who Steve forgot about, 6 foot 7, 280 pounds, and just as fast as Steve, enters his field of view. “Welcome to college football rookie.”

Though this column is about Steve Manos, the story starts with his brother Mike, the slightly older of the two and with slightly more hair and professional history. Mike made a name for himself at Microsoft where he was in charge of designing the data center infrastructure to deliver the Office Suite as an SAAS offering. The vision for the product was 40 plus mega data centers in geographically dispersed and latency relevant locations around the globe. One of those data centers is in Northlake, IL, the poster child for mind-boggling size and progressive technology and methods. It is a 500,000-square-foot warehouse with trailer loads full of servers that can be backed in and plugged in within hours. “A new era for hot swappable hard drives,” Mike once mused, “We’re building Skynet.”

The realization of Microsoft’s Northlake database center is where the Manos “Brand of Brothers” intersect as Steve had a significant impact in the realization of its existence as a member of Ascent Development. As chapters in life and careers are inevitable, Microsoft’s strategy changed, Mike moved to Digital Realty, and Steve was searching for his next challenge. Mike put his arm around his “little” brother and advised that he get his name out there in the market. Saying that Steve took this advice to heart and ran with it is an extreme understatement.

Steve joined Lee Technologies in a business development capacity in the Midwest and brought his own personal integrity, passion for people, and formidable charisma to the market, as evidenced by the origination and growth of the “Lee Tech On Tap” events.

Schneider’s acquisition of Lee Technologies brought career change for a lot of people on both sides. While Steve pondered his future and options, Norland Managed Services, a mission-critical building operations and security outsourcing firm headquartered in the UK, was pondering getting into the U.S. market. Their leadership attended 7x24 Exchange 2011 Fall Conference in Phoenix and began to ask, “Who would you hire if you wanted to gain attention in the U.S. data center market?” Both a testament to big brother’s advice and Steve’s branding prowess, eight out of the first ten people asked recommended Steve Manos.

Soon, Steve got an unexpected call from Norland and an invitation to consider becoming Norland’s general manager for North America. After two weeks’ immersion at  Norland headquarters in London, Steve is smitten with the business and the culture. The plane flew home at a lower altitude than Steve’s ambitions for Norland’s entrance into North America. The abundance of contracts, hires, installation locations, the press, the fame, were all accomplished before the wheels hit the ground.

Within a month the deal was signed, and Steve set out to bring Norland’s brand of innovation, quality, and reliability to the U.S, on a three-month budget. Decision-makers in the industry knew Steve, and given Norland’s SOP value proposition, many figured it should be a plug and play. Wave the flag. Tell a few of his few thousand friends. Visions of new houseboat purchases danced in his head. He was intent on making a name for himself. He had a direct line to the quarterback.

On day one, though, Steve found himself suddenly alone, as the first hire in a new country with the weight of an organization’s very big expectations on his shoulders. There is a lot to be done, a tight budget to fit it all into, in a restricted time frame. Steve was slogging away 18 hours a day simply introducing Norland, much less getting into their value proposition. The expected conversion of brand recognition was non-existent. He has to redefine and adjust every aspect of the QAs, QCs, SOPs, employment laws, proposals, grievances, and fee conversions. This wasn’t a glamorous job. Norland was tapping its watch, and the family saw dad less and less. When he is home, he’s not mentally there. He goes from glory boy to deck swab in a matter of two months. He finds himself flat on his back looking up at blue sky.

Fast forward a grueling six months, and we find Steve on the cusp of his first deal for Norland. The U.K. had grown impatient. He’s chief cook, bottle washer, and gets to drive the bus, but fulfilling and gratifying were absent terms. There have been no “atta boys” with a pat on the back or shoulder to cry on. This is the frontline testing Steve’s mettle to see if he’s really battle ready. Steve admits, “There were times of buyer’s remorse. Norland was tugging. My family was tugging. No clients were tugging was the problem. There were times when I might have left.” But there is no quit in Steve’s vocabulary.

In our interview, we didn’t get past Steve’s first wish for the data center industry. Steve’s utopia for the data center industry is simply solutions collaboration by harnessing familial relationships. This is the premise of his On Tap events, and it works. Perhaps it is his Chicago roots. “Chicago is a city of neighborhoods. We are close knit. We are competitive, but at the end of the day we are Chicagoans. We are family. We work together and protect our own,” he says.

Steve’s simple gratification for seeing people connect and derive some benefit from that connection reflects his complete altruism. Convincing Schneider and Norland of a quantifiable ROI associated with the On Tap events was impossible, though the value is obvious to Steve. And his events are important to a community of people who are responsible and loyal to each other. Evermore challenging on a macro scale, the events help Steve work towards his goals for the industry. As leader of Norland Managed Services, community is his purposeful charter for North America. “It fills my soul.” I think we’ve just found a renewable energy source that works.