ALEXANDRA SCHLESS

Chief Executive Officer, NorthC Datacenters
Alexandra Schless has a long and distinguished track record in the datacenter industry. In the past two decades, she transformed a start-up business into a market leader and as a Vice President she led international sales teams. She is now CEO of NorthC Datacenters where she focuses on growing the business, while doing so in a sustainable and socially responsible way. “Sustainability is the key to future growth and constant technological innovation is the key to sustainability,” according to Schless.

Published in Issue 5 | December 2020

Please share NorthC Datacenters’ trajectory, from its formation to your involvement with The Datacenter Group and NLDC.

NorthC Datacenters was founded in the first quarter of 2020 as a result of the integration of two existing datacenter companies: NLDC (owned by KPN) and The Datacenter Group. DWS Group, a German investment fund that acquired both companies in 2019, asked me to lead the combined group. I started on October 1, 2019 as the CEO of the company

Being one of the few woman CEOs of a datacenter company, how has your journey been so far and what was the most challenging part?

I started my career in the telecoms industry after I graduated from university. From the start, I was used to the fact that there weren’t many women working in technical companies. But for me, it has never been a reason to believe that as a woman I could not have the same career aspirations as my male colleagues. My parents always motivated me and my sister to make our own choices and to give a 100% to achieve something. I set a clear goal of what I wanted to achieve professionally. If I felt that I was not taken seriously (which happened a couple of times during my career), I waited for the right moment and opportunity to show the opposite—I think that is my inner drive and conviction.

At the same time, I always appreciated being a woman. I never felt like I had to act like one of the guys. There are differences between genders, and that is okay. Men and women have different ways to contribute, say for instance, towards a discussion or solving a problem. The outcome of combining these varied approaches can benefit the result. The important thing is to respect the differences and not judge people because of it. I have experienced that if you stay close to yourself, as a professional and a person, people value you for being genuine.

In your opinion, how many years will it take to achieve gender parity in the boardroom?

It will differ per country due to differences in social and political circumstances. For example, it will depend on the possibilities given by a government to support women in combining the care for children and work. In the Western world, I think it will still take many years before we have a true parity (50-50%) in boardrooms. We see hopeful changes, like in the Netherlands, as the topics around diversity and inclusion are now on the strategic agenda of many companies. But we must also realize that we need more women who have the ambition and belief that they can be part of a senior management and can make a difference in an organization. Parents, schools, universities and companies play an important role in supporting and motivating girls and women so that they don’t focus on limitations and obstacles but on the opportunities and solutions.

Implementing the right culture with the right DNA within the organization has been instrumental to the company’s success. Having a team of experts that complement each other is integral.

You have held various positions in your career and had a progressive journey at TelecityGroup, from being Country Manager Sales & Marketing in Netherlands to MD Netherlands, to VP Western Europe. Tell us about those 16 years, and how did it prepare you for the CEO role today?

When I joined TelecityGroup, I had the task to start a new business in the Netherlands. At first, I primarily focused on Sales & Marketing. Shortly after, I was also involved in organizing the financial as well as the operational side of the business, together with the Finance Director and the Operations Director of the company. During my younger years, I learned the important aspects of running a business from my father, who was an entrepreneur. With TelecityGroup, we went from a startup situation to becoming the market leader in The Netherlands.

Implementing the right culture with the right DNA within the organization has been instrumental to the company’s success. Having a team of experts that complement each other is integral. Nobody has all the knowledge, so you always have to do it together. I also believe in giving people true responsibility and accountability to accelerate in what they do best. It creates involvement, and people feel proud when they are a part of the journey to success. If people see that their individual actions and decisions contribute to the overall business strategy and results, you create a true winning team mentality. The opportunity to work closely with the CEO, Mike Tobin, and other members of the TelecityGroup Board has given me a wealth of knowledge and experience that further prepared me for my job today.

In your current management team, you are the only woman. Does that pose any challenges for you?

Honestly, no! I do not feel that this is an extra challenge for me. In my current management team, each colleague has a proven track record in a particular field, and we respect each other for that. As I mentioned before, being genuine is important for people to accept who you are. As a CEO, you can’t always be right but you help people in your organization to make the right decisions.