Women in Leadership: Dana Adams

Chief Operating Officer, AirTrunk

Dana Adams, the COO of AirTrunk, has been part of the data center industry for 15 years and has made her mark in data center operations and portfolio management across North America, Europe, and Asia-Pacific. Her track record in leading high-performance teams, integrating and scaling operations through impressive growth, and rising up to tackle new challenges facing the industry has earned her a reputation of operational excellence and inspirational leadership.

Adams made the move to AirTrunk, Asia-Pacific’s pioneering and leading hyperscale data center provider, in 2018. As COO of AirTrunk, and previously as General Manager and VP at Iron Mountain and Digital Realty, Adams has contributed to over 1GW of data center projects globally, managed multi-billion dollar portfolios, and recruited and developed new talent to lead the next generation of data center innovation.

With our ever-increasing dependency on digital infrastructure, how have you seen the pandemic impact AirTrunk and the broader technology industry, and what do you see as your priorities moving forward?

As an industry, we have been incredibly fortunate to have experienced accelerated growth through the pandemic when so many businesses fell into sharp decline or had to completely transform to stay relevant. It is the second time in my career, the first being the global financial crisis of 2008, when I had to stop to remind myself and our team how lucky we were that our biggest challenges were keeping up with demand and adopting new ways to deliver for our customers as they too navigated unprecedented times.

Whether global corporate enterprises or the corner café, nearly every business relied on technology and cloud-based solutions to sustain and grow through the pandemic. Tech companies were incredibly responsive, rolling out services and features rapidly to millions of new users.

Digital transformation continues at an extraordinary pace, with the result being an incredible push for more digital infrastructure capacity.

At AirTrunk, we develop and operate hyperscale data centers for global tech companies and cloud service providers across APAC, with some of the region’s largest independent data centers in Sydney, Melbourne, Singapore, Hong Kong, and Tokyo.

In the early stages of the pandemic, customers requested we fit out any spare capacity and deliver new capacity as quickly as possible. We were challenged with supply chain constraints, the fluctuating cost of building materials, and managing restrictions on construction during lockdowns, plus everything had to be done remotely. Despite these challenges, we adapted our operations to deliver more capacity across APAC, including in new markets. Our relationships and our people were the key to success. We were focused on being who our customers trust to deliver-where, when, and how they need. Our team worked hard around the clock to deliver for our customers safely and sustainably.

Keeping our people safe and supported was our number one focus throughout the pandemic. I assembled AirTrunk’s COVID-19 response team, and we quickly implemented plans, communications, and resources for our staff, including initiatives like virtual camps to help our teams’ kids through lockdown. We galvanized to support our broader business and community.

We’re not through it yet. We don’t know exactly what the ‘new normal’ will be, but we can be sure that technology will be at the center of it.

Looking forward to our next phase of industry growth, we’ll be focusing on sustainability, access to renewable energy across APAC, cyber security and data privacy, talent development, and supply chain management. Our team engages with customers, investors, and governments as we do these things responsibly.

You’ve spent about 15 years in the data center industry. How have you seen it evolve?

With smartphones, content streaming services, and the cloud all taking off, the industry’s growth has been exponential. Data centers have become much more mainstream. When I first started working in the industry, it felt very small, with data centers hidden in the basements of big banks and government buildings. Today companies like Apple, Microsoft, Google, Amazon, Meta, and Tencent have brought data centers into the public consumer’s view. My children know the data center as where Siri and Netflix live.

When I began, we were building the first 1MW turn-key data centers in major US markets. Today I work for a company pioneering hyperscale data centers on a global platform with 1GW of capacity across APAC. We’re building campuses with dedicated substations capable of supporting 300MW+ of IT load. We are driving innovation and building much more efficiently.

I’m proud of how responsible we have been about providing the infrastructure for the world’s largest companies to continue to grow and scale.

Over the years, the data center industry has contributed to the jobs’ revolution, now hiring roles core to operations that didn’t exist decades ago. At AirTrunk, for example, we have a Head of Energy and Climate, Head of Risk and Sustainability, Head of Innovation and Data Intelligence, plus a Chief Safety Officer.

Other changes are the active steps to drive change with diversity and inclusion. Undoubtedly the industry has been male dominated, with a perception that you needed to be an engineer or technician to contribute. Today there are more women and greater recognition of the need for talent from all backgrounds.

Lastly, data centers have become cool. AirTrunk is young, fun, and fast paced, where everyone sees their impact. Continually redefining and delivering the hyperscale data centers of tomorrow is an exciting opportunity for young professionals.

Can you tell our readers more about AirTrunk, its strategic plan, and key growth areas?

I was inspired by the vision of Founder and CEO, Robin Khuda, and joined AirTrunk because I believed in the strategy. In the three years since, we achieved our original vision of building a hyperscale platform across APAC and set our sights on bigger goals.

To do this, we needed a refreshed strategy that would align our teams across all geographies for the next phase of growth. The old model, which focused on design, build, and meeting SLAs, was insufficient. As we expand our platform across APAC, our strategy now focuses around four key pillars of talent, customers, finance, and sustainability. What will differentiate us are our customer relationships, built by our team of AirTrunkers who consistently execute, while leaving a lasting positive impact on our communities.

We’ll continue to focus on the APAC markets where we can provide local expertise to support our customer growth. We will also explore new markets and further expansion in established markets such as Sydney, where we recently announced SYD3, which will be the largest single campus in APAC at 320+MW, as nearby SYD1 approaches capacity.

Decarbonization is top of mind for the industry. Can you share your views on sustainability and key programs that AirTrunk has instituted?

Decarbonization is critical for our industry. When I joined AirTrunk, we aspired to be an industry leader in sustainability. We were delivering the lowest PUEs across APAC, but were a long way from a comprehensive ESG program. I’ve co-championed our efforts alongside our CTO by building out the Planet, People, and Progress strategy that saw amazing results last year.

In September 2021, we announced the conversion of our existing corporate loan facility of more than two billion dollars into a Sustainability Linked Loan (SLL). The loan set new industry benchmarks in sustainable financing as the first by a data center company in APAC, the first to utilize Operating PUE as a KPI, and the largest by a data center operator globally. The SLL was recently awarded ANZ Best Sustainable Corporate Deal of the Year in the 2021 FinanceAsia Achievement Awards.

In October, just four years after opening our first data center, we released our inaugural Sustainability Report. We’re serious about taking accountability and action in this area and are choosing a high level of transparency and publishing commitments to reduce our carbon emissions.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) stated that to avoid climate catastrophe, global emissions must be halved by 2030 and reach net zero by 2050. The urgency has called for more effective carbon management from all sectors and more countries adopting ambitious climate targets, which will translate to more stringent carbon emissions regulatory requirements.

We’re driving toward a net-zero emissions future. Our customers and vendors will also play a key role. In the coming months, we’ll share our net-zero roadmap. Our targets are being developed in line with market best practices and the Paris Agreement. We’re also completing the TCFD climate risk identification and assessment, as well as working on renewables projects across APAC.

Being an industry leader in sustainability takes a collaborative effort by every member of the AirTrunk team, whether developing our next efficiency innovation solution or distributing waste in the appropriate workplace bins.

Can you talk about the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DE&I) programs instituted at AirTrunk?

AirTrunk is committed to DE&I; in fact, increasing female representation is a KPI of our SLL.

Innovation and change can’t happen without diverse perspectives and a willingness to challenge the status quo. It helps that the investment community is setting mandates for increased diversity. It forces companies to think differently about recruitment and be more open when evaluating candidates for roles. Last year when setting our company KPIs, we targeted an increase in the representation of women across the business from 27 percent-already industry-leading-to 30 percent by 2025. We were at 32 percent at the end of November 2021. I’d love to see this continue to increase across all levels of the organization. I’m proud to say that my operations leadership team is 60 percent women and our Board is 38 percent.

I also spearheaded the AirTrunk Women in Leadership program in 2021, a bespoke program for our top women leaders that focuses on building impact and influence through personal brand and values alignment. Based on the overwhelming positive feedback, we are running our second cohort this year.

AirTrunk’s DE&I strategy focuses not just on gender. It’s important that we create a place where everyone feels welcome and can be their authentic self.

As a successful woman leader, what message do you have for young women who are looking to join this industry?

You don’t have to be an engineer to join. There are many transferable skills needed in the tech and data center industry, like legal, financial, real estate, sales, marketing, recruitment, training, ICT, and project management. I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into when I got into data centers back in 2006. I knew how to work hard; I asked questions and built relationships. There have been plenty of learnings along the way, but I have never looked back or had any regrets.

Working with data centers took me from Boston to Dublin to Sydney, giving me the opportunity to travel extensively across three continents. Now I get to expose my children to new places and lifestyles as we explore APAC via Australia.

Women can lead as well as men, and our industry needs more women leaders. Have courage and go for it. Don’t doubt yourself when things don’t go perfectly. You can reset and try again.