Dame Dawn Childs is the Chief Executive Officer of Pure Data Centres, where she focuses on bringing expertise in building and operating mission-critical systems for aviation, financial services, the military, utilities, and governments to design, build, and operate data centers for hyperscale clients around the world.
Childs’ unique mix of skills stems from her time served with the Royal Air Force, which she joined straight from school, and training as an officer at RAF Cranwell. In her 23 years in the RAF, she was the first female officer in many of her appointments. After leaving in 2012, she became Head of Engineering at Gatwick Airport and, subsequently, Group Engineering Director for Merlin Entertainments and UK Change Director at National Grid.
Childs holds a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Bath University and an MBA from Cranfield University.
There are so many ways someone can make their way into the digital infrastructure industry. Tell us a bit about your journey, what led you down this path, and how you got to where you are now.
To be honest, until I joined Pure, I hadn’t considered a career in digital infrastructure and didn’t know a lot about the industry at all (which is something that as an industry we need to remedy—we’ll never attract great talent if we continue to be under the radar!). My career journey before joining Pure didn’t really strike me as perfect preparation for data centers, but actually it was! I started out as an engineering officer in the Royal Air Force, leading aircraft maintenance and airworthiness teams. After 23 years, I left to become the Head of Engineering at Gatwick Airport then the Director of Engineering at Merlin Entertainments, followed by taking on the Transformation Lead role at National Grid for both the gas and electricity transmission businesses, before accepting a role at Pure in 2021. Whilst this career path may not seem to align with digital infrastructure, the skillsets that I acquired are perfect—technical decision making, commercial thinking, construction management, problem solving, crisis management, customer service, operational excellence, strategic analysis, and of course, above all else, engaging and leading high-performing teams. I initially came to Pure to set up the operations team, but later also took over the construction delivery part of the business. This setup gave me a gradual pathway to understanding the industry and how Pure fits into it before stepping up as the CEO at the start of May this year.
As the CEO of Pure Data Centres, what does a typical workday involve for you? What sorts of activities and decisions are you involved in, and are there any particular skills you find yourself drawing on regularly?
Before I start any work, I always try to blow the cobwebs off and set myself up for the day by going to the gym at 0600—if I don’t keep that discipline, the day will run away with me. In Pure we have a rhythm to the business, with a few key meetings throughout the week that ensure work and priorities flow and issue escalation is managed appropriately so I will know what the primary focus of the day will be for routine work— and importantly, the team also know. The skills I draw on very much depend on the focus of the day and what issues need to be resolved, or strategic discussions had: they could be technical, construction, contracting, governance, or financial. Invariably, risk analysis will be in there somewhere to ensure that the right decisions and priorities are being made. One other overarching skillset that runs as a golden thread and is essential in all that I do is my ability to interact and connect with people. I don’t think that anyone can say they lead people or manage stakeholder relationships in a perfect way, because people are complex, and you can always learn and evolve. But I can wholeheartedly say that relationship management and making connections with people are the most important parts of my role.