One-on-One with Kris Kumar

CEO, Bridge Data Centres In an exclusive interview with IG Magazine Editor-in-Chief Jasmine Bedi, Kris Kumar reveals the expansion plans and future of Bridge Data Centres

What is your vision for Bridge Data Centres?

My vision is to build a sustainable company that is best-in-class in terms of our people. The business of data centers, while it requires substantial capital, relies on execution. After the building is built and after the customers are in, operating that data center for 20 years is key. My aim is to build a team of people that excels in everything they do, while pushing boundaries in thinking, and get critical facilities under their skin. And I am well on my way to achieving that by having a team that has essentially recruited me rather than me recruiting them. This says a lot about their faith in my overall experience to cross-pollinate that vision across the different functions in my organization today.

Starting with one and going up to 110 people in 18 months, it’s been quite a journey to make sure that we are building a harmonious, homogenous team that puts the customer before everything else and is responsible in the way that they deploy capital, and manage the risk of that capital, while also managing the risk of those operations for our customers. At the end of the day we are risk managers. But I think of ourselves as an insurance company, we manage the customer’s risk. So, being pretty deep in our skill sets is kind of my vision.

What’s your strategy for Asia Pacific?

We are a Bain Capital portfolio company with $1 billion of investment. In AsiaPac, there are key markets that are low-hanging fruit. The strategy will continue to evolve every year because the drivers are wide-ranging. The universe of customers has shrunk. The geopolitical climate is in a state of flux. People didn’t expect China to be where it is today. So, from a data center perspective or a data-driven economy and digitization perspective, China is miles ahead of even the U.S. An integral part of our strategy is to grow in China and India. We know that data being the new fuel, it’s going to drive economic and GDP growth.

What are other challenges that you face today?

The challenge is across the industry. There are probably 10 or 15 globally big customers who are probably taking 70-80% of the capacity globally from providers like us. There used to be 500 companies before, as compared to 10-15 companies today. So, the challenge is being able to meet their requirements in a timeline and in locations that they need it, at the right price points. Challenges include cost of capital, debt providers rising to the challenge, and lending in markets that they’re not acquainted with.

On the other side, customers are growing at a rapid pace and they don’t have projections in their business. Hence, we need to be flexible with solutions that cost money, and at the same time provide a price point that customers can embrace. We need to educate the customers about our limitations, and market limitations in terms of money, expertise, experience, along with conditions in various geographies across AsiaPac. Unlike Europe and U.S., AsiaPac is non-homogenous culturally, capital-wise and risk-wise. It’s extremely different between Tokyo and Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur and Mumbai, or Sydney and Singapore. Working with such differences, while providing a homogenous product to customers with consistent contracting methodologies is a big challenge for anybody. What we want to do is help customers navigate that and provide solutions that are uniform across the region. And we can (hand on heart) say we will take your critical IT infrastructure and manage it in a risk-managed way—that’s truly what our mission is.

What are your expansion plans in the AsiaPac region?

China, Singapore, Korea, Indonesia, Australia and Japan are the key markets for us to focus on in varying degrees of complexity and varying timelines. Eventually, I would hope to have a footprint across all of those markets in addition to our existing markets of Malaysia and India.

Can you describe your journey to where you are today?

I started as a chief engineer in the merchant marines, sailing ships around the world for 10 years. Followed by my career building ships in shipyards in Miami, looking after a fleet for Dole, the American fruit company. It’s been a long jump from there to data centers. The incredible thing is that life is a journey if you let yourself ride on it fearlessly. The ability to take risk and then clearly identify and manage it is something that produces stupendous outcomes.

When I look back on 40 years of my career, the first 10 spent really working with my hands on every piece of equipment that today is in data centers. Moving from that into real estate to telecoms in the early days of the Internet when I was playing around with TCP/IP and UNIX and programming systems at my university and having access to the Internet when nobody else did, was a funny twist of fate.

Kris with his Taylor Hawaiian Koa acoustic guitar that has mother of pearl inlay on the fretboard

Eventually, I brought all of these faculties together, whether it was engineering or my master’s in finance, was a complete accident. It’s fate that had a hand to play in bringing each of these collective skill sets together and applying them so beautifully in the data center industry for the last 27 years. I feel it incumbent upon me to leave that journey, not at a destination, but at a point where I can successfully say there is a legacy of 30 years that has contributed to the industry in terms of the business model of data centers right down to engineering and operations.

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