IG Magazine’s Editor-in-Chief Jasmine Bedi unravels the story behind the inception of Evoque-the new face of the former AT&T Data Centers-that’s under Tim Caulfield’s leadership.
Can you tell us about your journey so far and how your company became an instrumental part of Brookfield’s AT&T transaction?
We started working with Brookfield in February 2018. At the time, we provided our professional services as industry consultants through my company, The Antara Group, while working extensively on M&A transactions within the sector. Hence, we were originally hired by Brookfield to perform commercial and technical due diligence on the AT&T assets. As it matured, Brookfield got more interested in the opportunity. One of Brookfield’s requirements was to look for an operating partner for the transaction. The entire group—my management team and I—who are all industry veterans, got very intrigued as well. Subsequently, we made a pitch to Brookfield to make us their partner. However, it didn’t happen immediately, as they were considering other options as well. After a round of discussions for another month or so, the deal matured. It completely culminated in late May in 2018, when we jointly pitched to AT&T for Brookfield. AT&T got comfortable after we presented the case for both the financial expertise that Brookfield brought to the transaction as well as the operations expertise that we had. Once AT&T was convinced with us, we went on to win the transaction.
This is when the real fun begins because it’s a carve out. AT&T was not running it as a business unit, but as a product line. So, we acquired 31 data centers around the world. In turn, we acquired the customers as well as operations employees, who were directly operating the centers. What we did not get was any of the SG&A functions—neither did we get executive, sales, marketing, legal, finance and IT teams, nor any systems. We immediately started to build that. In June, right after the deal was signed, the entire team moved over as part of the core of the new executive team. Post which we started hiring, heavier on sales, finance and other functions, and also made decisions around our system requirements. When we announced the deal, we aimed to close the transaction in approximately six to 12 months. In just slightly over six months on 31st December 2018, Evoque was born.
In Q1 2019, we not only hit all our goals for the first quarter but exceeded a number of them. We came out strong and plus got good acceptance and engagement from the customer base, as well as good visibility in the market. We’re continuing to work and grow the business.
What was the thought-process behind the name Evoque?
Naming a company is worse than naming a child, partly because you’ve got several legal and regulatory requirements to consider. This is a mature industry, so most of the obvious cool names have already been taken. So yes, a lot of market research and marketing campaigns went behind naming the company. At the nascent stage, we submitted a few options to the lawyers. But they didn’t work because it risked an infringement on an existing trademark or patent.
Eventually, our marketing leader Donna Henderson suggested Evoque Data Centers. The idea stemmed from one of our AT&T data centers that has been in the market, but for the most part they were invisible for not being competitive enough. The meaning of evoke essentially means to bring something that’s in the background to the foreground. We decided to mix it up a little, which is why we spell it e-v-o-q-u-e, adding a unique touch to it.
Looking at the road ahead, what are some of your biggest challenges and how do you plan to overcome those?
First and foremost, AT&T as the owner of the data centers was also a network provider. The dominant network in every data center that we have is AT&T’s network, and over 90 percent of our customers are solely using the brand’s service. AT&T will continue to be one of our largest customers and will continue to have the network presence. But as a service provider, we need greater network density within our facilities. Our first big priority is getting more carriers in, taking a network-neutral posture. We have a large base of 1,100 plus enterprise class employees, and hence, the carriers want to be here. They recognize that we have an underserved base of customers that they want to reach. So, we built out facilities in our data centers’ meet me rooms to accommodate them since AT&T didn’t have that concept.
The second big piece is the fact that since we are a carve out, we are still relying on AT&T for a number of their systems. There’s also been other transactions in the sector that have taken multi-years to get off whoever their parent was at the time—we don’t want to do that. We have an aggressive goal to be completely done by the end of September 2019.
Is there any specific message that you’d like to give to the industry?
Primarily for us, the key is that we want to take advantage of our global footprint, our scale and the higher end enterprise class services that we bring to the table. We compete very effectively with some of the larger, more established players. We’re neither too small, nor too huge, giving our customer base a very interesting alternative and advantage. While we’re probably not the cheapest in the market, but we definitely will be very competitive in the segment.
Everyone these days talks about the edge. I like to equate that the term edge today is like the term cloud was in 2008. Everybody uses it, but nobody really knows what it is. But the one thing we can agree on; the edge means more points in more markets and more locations. When you think about just that piece of the premise, we certainly bring data center expertise to the equation. And speaking of edge and cloud together, compute does not live in the clouds, it lives in a data center.
What do you consider as your key strengths as you look at growing the business forward?
Reiterating our relationship with Brookfield, I’d like to add that they’re an infrastructure investment company, with investments in power plants, alternative energy companies, oil, gas, and water. With the number of commonalities, it gives us more opportunities and advantages to leverage other companies in the Brookfield portfolio. In the long-term, this will pay off for us as we will be able to do things that others in the industry won’t be able to do because they’re not part of that consortium. That’s our story, and we’re sticking to it!