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Deep Dive: Lee Myall, Chief Executive Officer, Kao Data

Deep Dive: Lee Myall, Chief Executive Officer, Kao Data

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Kao Data develop and operate advanced data centres for high performance colocation. Lee Myall, Chief Executive Officer, Kao Data, talks about what first made him think about a career in technology and what he believes is the current hot talking point in the data centre space.

What would you describe as your most memorable achievement in the data centre industry?

Before joining Kao Data, my experience of working with data centre organisations ran across the complete spectrum of mission-critical digital infrastructure sectors, including telco, software, cloud services and connectivity. I’ve been lucky to have worked with some first-class colleagues and within industry-leading teams, and there have been a number of achievements to which I am proud of.

One that truly stands out was during my time at Interoute, where my role predominantly sat within sales and business transformation. Here I led the inception of a new complex solutions division, pioneering the company’s IaaS/cloud computing business units, who were responsible for servicing large-scale, blue chip organisations.

Although not a single memory alone, my team undertook a number of complex Digital Transformation projects, which helped grow the Interoute business to €750 million. This contributed to its US$2.3 billion acquisition by GTT in 2018, which was a very rewarding moment. Projects like this helped me to hone my leadership skills and taught me things about short and long-term strategies.

The first is that customers come first, always, and more so when meeting demanding timescales. Yet to deliver that service, it’s crucial that you execute a strategic plan with a team that are motivated, appreciated and have the right expertise at the start.

The second is that vision is key in delivering long-term goals, with both resilience and tenacity required to reach them. Transforming Interoute’s European division didn’t happen overnight, but with the right people invested in the long-term strategy, we achieved something truly remarkable during my time with the company.

What first made you think of a career in technology/ data centres?

My fascination with technology is one of my early memories and I’ve been lucky enough to see first-hand how new and innovative technologies have impacted both global businesses and changed consumer buying habits. Data centres, cloud and digital connectivity have been transformative in every sense of the word, and the possibilities that this sector presents are truly remarkable.

At Kao Data, for example, we design, build and operate data centres for intensive computing – from high performance computing (HPC) in life sciences, genomics and FinTech, to Artificial Intelligence (AI) organisations developing Machine Learning algorithms and even autonomous vehicle technologies. Our foundations are built on innovation and we continue to be inspired by the hyperscale community, adopting principles aligned with energy efficiency and sustainability.

As a consumer, I am one of those rare breeds that actually read the manuals! I want to know exactly what I’m buying, how it works and be confident that it will deliver exactly what I need. I believe that approach is also crucial when working with high growth, scale-up and blue-chip organisations, who have to know that you, and your team, can deliver solutions to help overcome their challenges.

Kao Data, and data centres in general, are the pinnacle of this. They connect global economies, businesses, people and are absolutely fundamental to everything we do today. My goal is to work with Kao Data and help us to grow, asking how we can become more efficient, more effective and more agile?

What style of management philosophy do you employ with your current position?

My managerial philosophy includes a number of aspects: inclusiveness, collaboration, transparency and teamwork. I believe that recognising the expertise of the people in your organisation and constantly seeking to learn and improve are essential.

Kao Data has strong sense of purpose with a team that’s come together through a vision of technical excellence. By focusing on empowering the team and staying true to our vision, we can continue to accelerate our market position.

What do you think is the current hot talking point within the data centre space?

With many of the challenges experienced this past year, I believe that awareness of HPC and AI has grown and has become a very hot topic – one, where supercomputers are re-shaping data centre design and architecture at a tremendous pace.

Another key discussion point is on how can today’s data centres house or accommodate HPC and AI technologies? Especially when so many legacy, or traditionally built facilities, will struggle to power and cool HPC at higher densities and industrial scales.

Having a facility built to OCP-Ready standards, where customers can benefit from abundant renewable energy, alongside air and liquid-cooled high-density infrastructure is crucial to meet HPC demands. Here data centres must be engineered to accommodate the latest CPU and GPU technologies to provide an effective platform for HPC innovation.

How do you deal with stress and unwind outside the office?

I often find that I can reduce stress by spending time with the family and prioritising my health. We live near the Chiltern Hills, so enjoy long dog walks in glorious countryside, as well as early morning high intensity interval (HIIT) training sessions, so that I’m ready for the day ahead. I also enjoy drives with my teenage son, just to catch up, to talk and to listen to music – often the latest drill and grime tracks!

What do you currently identify as the major areas of investment in your industry?

I see a great deal of industry efforts focused on efficiency and sustainability. At Kao Data we’re lucky to work with some of the best engineers and thought leaders in the sector. Today, we aim to drive data centre sustainability and maintain equilibrium between cost and efficiency. This all weaves into the high number of ISO standards that we have embedded in the business and its operational processes.

What are the region-specific challenges you encounter in your role?

Commuting from Marlow to Harlow, one of the biggest regional challenges I will undoubtedly face is the M25! From a business perspective, being one of 250+ data centres around London, the obvious regional challenge is differentiation. How can one data centre be different to another when essentially the core components – power, space, cooling, are pretty much the same?

Kao Data have approached this by focusing on the world-class technical foundations, where people like our COO, Paul Finch, and CTO, Gérard Thibault, have provided us with resilient and hyperscale-inspired digital infrastructure. This has enabled us to specialise in accommodating HPC, AI and GPU-powered computing, which makes our UK Innovation Corridor location between London and Cambridge – two of the UK’s supercomputing hotspots – all the more significant.

As a company, one of the key differentiators is the talents, skills and experience of your team – and at Kao Data we have probably the best in the business. That’s a hard thing for a competitor to replicate.

What changes to your job role have you seen in the last year? How do you see these developing in the coming months?

With the challenges that we’ve experienced throughout 2020, many of us have seen key changes in our roles and day-to-day lives. My key reasons for joining Kao Data are first and foremost the quality of the people across the organisation and secondly, the opportunity to both contribute and lead the team towards its next phase of development and growth. This is not a change to my previous commercial experience as such, but a change of sector dynamics.

Kao Data is not constrained by institutionalised thinking and we’re small enough to be agile and disruptive. We continue to be inspired by the intensive computing organisations with which we work, adopting a process of continuous innovation to help customers overcome their challenges and adapt to new opportunities. It’s an absolute privilege to support organisations like EMBL-EBI, and help it spend less time focusing on its data centre infrastructure and more time focusing on the complex bioinformatic datasets in which it specialises.

As we look forward, we must retain our ethos, delivering technical excellence for organisations dependent on mission-critical digital infrastructure. As data centre demands continue to grow exponentially, ensuring we are agile, flexible and ultra-efficient will be key to meeting customer requirements.

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