Bill Stein, CEO of Digital Realty, one of the largest data center real estate companies in the world, entered the data center space just as the cloud was born.
“We are fortunately right at the middle of all of this, we are at the heart of this revolution.”
Pennsylvania and Princeton
Bill grew up in Pittsburgh, PA, where relationships, friendship, family, and sports (specifically football) mattered above all else. He attended boarding school in Philadelphia, Princeton for his B.A. in the classics, and the University of Pittsburgh for law school.
After working for his father’s law firm as an insurance defense litigator, he joined Duquesne Light Company as a lawyer and then Assistant Treasurer, and then Westinghouse Credit and Westinghouse Electric where he tackled deals before and during the S&L crisis.
In 1994, Bill moved to San Francisco to work with one of his previous clients at Westinghouse, TriNet Corporate Realty Trust which was soon sold to iStar Financial Inc. He went on to serve as co-head of Venture Bank @PNC (a technology lending business) at PNC Bank in Pittsburgh with a satellite office in San Francisco.
Building Digital Realty
Bill joined GI Partners (Digital Realty’s predecessor private equity fund) in 2004 as the CFO and Chief Investment Officer of Digital Realty Trust and helped GI’s data center portfolio go public as Digital Realty.
First, Digital Realty began expanding globally, acquiring properties in Europe and Asia. Their business was mainly leasing large chunks of space to financial institutions and technology companies until they bought Telex, an interconnection business which is crucial for data centers.
Balancing Tech and Real Estate
In the beginning, Digital Realty was an asset-focused business, but now it is much more customer-focused. There are a lot of real estate details in their relationships with their customers, however, the service level obligations they offer would not be found in a typical real estate firm.
“What we provide is a secure space, and we provide access to power. We provide connectivity. We provide power redundancy. So if power lines go down… we have initially batteries in our data centers that kick on to keep the servers running until the generators kick in.”
Bill explains that their tenants, including Amazon and Microsoft, are quite loyal and secure because it’s an expensive proposition to leave. Digital Realty’s global footprint, trust, and certainty of delivery give them a tremendous competitive advantage as their customers are confident knowing they can expand their current campus if necessary.
The Internet of Things, sensors in your home, an Amazon device that controls your lights or searches the internet for you, motion detectors, autonomous driving, virtual reality, artificial intelligence… Data centers are crucial to the ecosystem of the technological advances happening now and in the future.
“Innovation here is trying to figure out where the puck is headed, and get there before the puck gets there.”
Don’t be afraid to take educated risks, be open to new opportunities, and value transparency, integrity, ethics, and relationships. You never know when a friendship might matter.
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