Deep dive: Rob Coupland, CEO, Pulsant

Deep dive: Rob Coupland, CEO, Pulsant

We ‘deep dive’ with Rob Coupland, Chief Executive Officer, Pulsant, who tells us about life inside and outside the office.

What is your most memorable achievement in the data centre space?

I’ve been extremely fortunate to be part of the growth of such a diverse and interesting sector. Over the last 20 years of being involved in the data centre industry, there have been many highlights, including working with great teams, interesting clients and being involved in acquiring and growing companies across Europe. If I had to pick one thing though, it was my involvement as part of the Tech UK Data Centre Council to secure the Climate Change Agreement for data centres. I think gaining recognition for the role data centres can play in reducing the climate impact of the digital systems we all rely on, and agreement on its inclusion within wider policy at the time, was a real positive for our industry, and still is. Having the chance to make a difference to the standing of the data centre community within wider Government policy was something I was proud to be involved in.

How did you get started in the data centre industry?

I’d love to say this was all part of a master plan but it wasn’t. I spent the first 12 years of my career at Cable & Wireless and was lucky enough to experience the UK telecoms industry deregulation and the early growth of the Internet. This was also my first exposure to data centres. When I moved on from C&W, I made a speculative approach to Telecity, which was how I came to meet Mike Tobin, who is now our Chairman at Pulsant, and he gave me a job. It was a bit of a left-field decision as the other roles I had applied for were more closely matched to my previous experience, but there was just something that told me I needed to take the risk. And looking back, I am so glad I took that chance as it pushed me on in my career in a way that I feel those other roles may not have. It was completely new ground for me and different to the roles I’d had before; I learned a lot, made mistakes, but it gave me the opportunity to grow in a way that was hugely beneficial.

What style of management do you have?

Overall, I try to be open and inclusive. Every person in Pulsant has a role to play in our success and I try to engage with people based on their expertise, rather than where they fit into the management structure. We have around 330 people and I like working in a company where it’s possible to get to know people. I am lucky to work with a leadership team who are diverse in their skills and personalities, which brings different perspectives to what we are doing. I am ambitious for what we can achieve together as a company; I am sure I can be demanding at times, but I hope people would say I am supportive too.

What do you think are the hot talking points in the data centre space?

For the data centre community there are a lot of new technologies on the horizon. From the growth of compute and the demand that comes from AI and the heavy compute workloads within that, to the growth of local fibre networks and 5G, that is opening up the possibilities for more distributed applications, which is really where edge comes to the fore; as well as digital infrastructure and its impact on physical resources, including power grids.

Today the UK, like many countries, has ended up with a concentration of data centres in a small number of urban areas and as data use and apps start to place huge demands on the energy grids, we will need to start to look at more distributed models to alleviate that pressure. I think as cloud strategies mature, and people start to recognise that whilst cloud is a fantastic tool set, hyperscale public cloud isn’t the answer for everything, we will start to see the relevance of regional infrastructure, which is what our story is all about.

How do you deal with stress and unwind?

I cycle. There is something about being in the fresh air under your own steam that I just enjoy. It’s often where I do a lot of my thinking. I find a lot of my ideas come to me when I’m on my bike.

With stress, I do think age and experience makes it easier to compartmentalise work and get balance. If I I go back to my thirties, I was just naturally more stressed about things. Over the years I have realised you need to enjoy the highs, when things are going well, as there will always be bumps in the road along the way. I’ve learned from experience that when it looks as though things are going terribly wrong, there’s normally a way through it.

What do you currently identify as a major area of investment in the data centre space?

It has to be regional and digital infrastructure, there is a lot of investment there from us and others in the industry. We have acquired companies and made significant investments that have taken us into new regions of the UK. We’ve been investing in expanding our capacity across the UK, as well as in the network that enables us to connect those data centres together to bring the opportunities of digital infrastructure out to the regional businesses. So for me, that will continue to be the big growth area as we look to support the demand for faster, secure access to data regionally.

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

We have organised our business to recognise that the UK is not all one place. Global companies tend to homogenise the market, but the reality is different as the regions of the UK have different cultural identities and ways of working. At Pulsant we are focused on getting that balance between being a platform to leverage the nationwide opportunity, while recognising those regional differences. Our go-to-market strategy is regional, with sales and operational teams aligned to that because the cultural aspects of business are definitely more important than people often give credit for. I think it’s easy to think that with technology and digital infrastructure geography matters less, but in many ways, I think it matters more; regions are proud of their heritage and identity and being part of the community and supporting businesses in those regions is becoming increasingly important.

What changes to your job role have you seen in the last year and how do you see that developing?

Overall, my role as CEO is to bring our strategy to life and ensure all of our stakeholders understand our vision and our plans to achieve it. That’s a diverse group – shareholders, clients, partners that we work with, communities that we are part of and, of course, our own people. The most rewarding parts of my role are time spent with our clients – understanding their opportunities and challenges and how we can support them in achieving their ambitions and time spent with the teams around

Pulsant, understanding the things they are doing to make great things happen for our clients, but also how I can support them in that. Being able to get back out to spend time with people face to face over the last couple of years since the pandemic receded has been great and this will continue to be a focus.

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