I had the pleasure of playing golf with Scott Widham, CEO of Alpheus Communications, at a little event we put together with Schneider Electric’s Data Center Solutions Provider business. Alpheus was named after a Greek water god who tunneled thousands of miles for his love. The metaphor, in this case, is fiber. Alpheus is the owner/operator of one of the largest fiber networks in Texas with thousands of miles of fiber connecting businesses, a super-regional telecommunications and data center firm headquartered in Houston. Where else but Texas can you refer to a company as super-regional and have all the assets in one state?
During the course of our Saturday morning, a good walk spoiled, I couldn’t help but notice the dichotomy of two CEOs in the group. One had a swing and a game that was appropriately self-described as just short of violent. The kinetic energy associated with that swing, generated by a single human being, was truly marvelous to watch.
On the other hand, Scott Widham has a three quarter swing that simply produced consistent results — right down the middle. His score on each hole hardly deviated. His score on both nines — the same. I don’t recall him being in a single hazard. Even his misses were right down the middle, progressive and productive, in a successful place.
In talking with Scott initially about his life and business his reply was short and simple. He noted that he likes to identify successful businesses that would benefit from better management/strategy, a bit of capital infusion, and scale. He buys one and invests in the company to take it to the next level of growth and valuation, a win-win formula for both the employees and investors. In between his CEO stints, he takes the time off with his family, travels, and experiences the world.
Scott’s run of success in the telecom business is impressive to say the least. It wasn’t his first rodeo but we’ll start with a highlight in his CEO career as head of Broadwing Communications, which was acquired by Level3 in 2008 for a cool $1.6 billion. Yep, with a “B.” Telecom is more mature than the data center market so Scott’s hindsight of dealing in the Bs already puts him in tall straw along with very few data center companies.
After Broadwing, he took a little time off and was EVP of Corporate Development for CoStreet Communications for a year before taking a little more Scott time and then becoming CEO of Cobridge Communications LLC, an owner and operator of cable television systems. Bought, run, sold. Lather, rinse, repeat. I asked for his success recipe: hire incredible people, set common goals, and empower them to achieve. Push decision making as close to the customer as you can. Create a culture of exceptional customer service and experience.
Tunneling a little deeper, I had to ask the question, “What feeds your soul?” For Scott, it all comes back to a process he’s run for 30 years. Scott has a structured approach to achieving a balanced life and he’s worked hard to accomplish it. He holds this balance as the primary ingredient to his success. It started with the Young President’s Organization (YPO), where he found a close group of friends/peers that have been meeting in an annual forum to discuss business and personal goals for years. Rules for participation in this forum mean absolute confidentiality and full disclosure. The members “keep each other accountable” and drive each other to achieve goals.
THREE WISHES, TWOHOPES, ONE CONCERN
We also had to touch on the “Data Center Genie’s Three Wishes Granted”, which included two hopes for and one constructive concern:
1. Scott hopes that businesses continue to migrate internal systems to redundant, reliable, purpose-built data center facilities. He hopes the Genie can continue the double digit growth rate for data center services, that it’s not a trend, and businesses increasingly realize the value.
2. Businesses continue to buy services from local, smaller providers (i.e., in the 25K sq ft category) for competitive reasons. A high-quality, smaller service provider can offer more personalized customer care, faster response times, customized solutions, and affordable pricing.
3. Concern: The data center industry is a bit at odds with itself, seemingly seeking optimal PUE as environmentally conscious, yet only a small percentage of the power use in the data center optimized relative to servers and applications. If the industry and its tenants were to actually review server utilization, we could likely reduce power consumption and space significantly. This of course goes against the grain of incremental revenue of selling more space and power, but there’s the balance of doing the right thing because it’s the right thing to do, on so many levels.
So there he goes again. Right on so many levels. Just never on the golf course. Thanks for the inspiration and path Scott. Keep ‘em straight. Fairways and greens, two putts, as a business course.