As part of my series about the “How Business Leaders Plan To Rebuild In The Post COVID Economy,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Shane Menking.
Shane earned his B.B.A in Accounting at the University of Texas at San Antonio. After working for major accounting firm Arthur Andersen, he joined Data Foundry in 2000. He started in business development and was later promoted to CFO and President.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I am a CPA by background, and I was introduced to Data Foundry when they were called Texas.net. I had just moved to Austin, and they were one of my first high tech clients. The Yokubaitis family founded Texas.net in 1994 and is easily one of the most unique families I had ever worked with. In 2000, I had a chance to work for them for a one-year stint when they were establishing the Data Foundry brand and had just built their first colocation data center in Austin. In 2005, I came back in my current role and have proudly been part of the team that has steadily grown and is now one of the premier data center providers in Texas.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
I worked in public accounting in my first job out of college. On one of my first engagements the manager convinced me that an account called “grease money” was where the company recorded expenses for bribes to public officials. I believed him and questioned the CFO on the business practice (he was in on it). Turns out the account is where the company recorded revenue from the sale of grease. It was funny and a little embarrassing because I should have immediately identified that this was a revenue and not an expense. The first lesson I learned (and one I am still struggling to learn) is when things are off, slow down. Your emotions can lead you to lose track of reason. The second lesson I learned is that you are always being tested.
Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to, that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?
Over my 25-year career what I have found is that it is important to read as many books and listen to as many experts as you can. You need to do this to challenge your assumptions, learn from other people’s experiences and most importantly to gain an understanding of subjects from people that are smarter than you. There isn’t anything in particular; rather, it is the extensive library of content that matters.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven business” are more successful in many areas. When you started your company what was your vision, your purpose?
I’m not the founder, but I have worked closely with our founders for 15 years now. Our challenge and purpose has always been based upon being successful against companies with much greater access to capital. To meet this challenge, we have always made decisions based upon feeling confident they made sense long term and not just based upon an exit strategy. We’ve promoted that long term thinking into how we’ve developed our staff and certainly to how we’ve presented our brand to prospective customers.
Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?
One principle or saying that I have always had is that even if the road is smooth, you can still be headed straight off of a cliff. What that means to me is that in business you should never feel comfortable and be prepared to change course rapidly at any point in time. Dangers are everywhere and they can come at you rapidly.
Thank you for all that. The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. For the benefit of empowering our readers, can you share with our readers a few of the personal and family related challenges you faced during this crisis? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
I personally have been very fortunate that COVID-19 has not impacted my life in any major ways. Like many others, the hardest part has been the loss of personal interactions with friends and family on a regular basis. We’ve used technology to keep in touch, and video calls are great to have in our lives. However, I miss my dad and he misses his grandkids.
Can you share a few of the biggest work related challenges you are facing during this pandemic? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
One of the biggest challenges that we will continue to face is providing the safest possible work environment when the very nature of our business requires people to work in close proximity. In addition, being able to support our customers which are also required to visit our facilities in a post COVID world. Our approach has been to limit as much as possible how many people need to be at the data centers, and when people are there, we’ve put in place policies and procedures to limit the need for two people to interact unless it is an absolute requirement. When it is required, everyone wears masks.
Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. What are a few ideas that you have used to offer support to your family and loved ones who were feeling anxious? Can you explain?
Our family has remained focused on a few things. First, while COVID-19 is new and it is deadly, at a big picture level, on a purely percentages basis, your day to day risk is low. Secondly, your personal decisions can make that risk lower. Finally, it’s eventually going to be solved. So, we work to understand this risk better every day, and we strive to make the best decisions as we move forward. The key is to keep moving forward.
Obviously we can’t know for certain what the Post-Covid economy will look like. But we can of course try our best to be prepared. We can reasonably assume that the Post-Covid economy will be a trying time for many people across the globe. Yet at the same time the Post-Covidgrowth can be a time of opportunity. Can you share a few of the opportunities that you anticipate in the Post-Covid economy?
This challenge will create opportunities. Specific to our business, as the broader economy reengages, companies that have resisted moving their mission-critical IT infrastructure to outsourced data centers are going to be rethinking that strategy. We are an essential business, which for us created the obligation to ensure we continued to operate 24x7x365. This not only protects our business but all of the businesses we support. The size and scale of our operations make us more resilient from a staffing and coverage perspective than most companies.
How do you think the COVID pandemic might permanently change the way we behave, act or live?
Things are going to permanently change, but I think it’s harder to predict what those changes are going to be than people think. There is so much we don’t know at this stage. At a minimum, every company now has a well-vetted Pandemic response plan. Every long-term decision we make in the near term is going to be influenced by how COVID-19 impacted your business. I predict our office environments are going to be permanently impacted as telecommuting and work from home become part of every business. The handshake as part of the business might be gone forever.
Considering the potential challenges and opportunities in the Post-Covid economy, what do you personally plan to do to rebuild and grow your business or organization in the Post-Covid Economy?
We are most focused on the capital markets stabilizing and continuing our growth plan. Our sector will be one that benefits from business rethinking their technology strategies, which means we need to build more space. We are preparing to be able to move quickly once the opportunities arise.
Similarly, what would you encourage others to do?
One challenge we always face in business is that things don’t ever seem to slow down. At this point in time, across most organizations some level of slow-down has occurred. Take advantage of this time to work through the backlog of projects, especially ones that have new revenue potential. There’s documentation that your teams haven’t been able to get to, get to it now. Finally, spend as much time at home with your family as you can.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t — you’re right.”
For me, this has always been about not being afraid to move forward, regardless the challenge.
How can our readers further follow your work?