Women in Leadership: Kristi Alford-Haarberg

President & Chief Executive Officer, E2 Optics

Kristi Alford-Haarberg, a former senior executive at Kent Electronics, founded E2 Optics in 2010 based on a vision that technology implementation should focus on the entire customer experience, not just on build and install.

With offices across the US, E2 Optics specializes in mission-critical data center installations, new construction, and tenant improvement within various vertical industries, including numerous Fortune 50 enterprises. An award-winning, woman-owned business, E2 Optics was part of Inc. 5000 in 2020, its second appearance on the list that ranks America’s fastest-growing private companies. 

Throughout her career, Alford-Haarberg has advocated for women in business, specifically dedicating time to those in the construction industry. She tries to give back personally as well as professionally via the company’s multiple outreach projects. E2 Optics supports St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital through their Safely Home initiative’s Near Miss program. For each near miss reported, E2 Optics funds a donation to St. Jude. E2 Optics also supports First Tee-Colorado Rocky Mountains, which enables kids to build the strength of character that empowers them through a lifetime of new challenges.

Could you take us through your inspiring entrepreneurial journey?

A graduate from Texas Tech University with degrees in Business Management and Communications, my first job was with Kent Electronics Company, a Fortune 200 IT complete services company that sold both Layer 1 and Layer 2 solutions. I gained national experience with some of the largest providers/end-users of total IT solutions and integrations. During my time at Kent Electronics, I realized the exponential growth that was going to happen in the cloud and data center markets. Identifying this growing trend helped me properly position E2 Optics to capitalize on the hyperscale revolution. 

My goal when I started E2 Optics was to be a disruptor in the industry. I wanted to show that a woman not only could enter the space, but also become a leader of a highly sought-after company. My tenacious personality, drive, and faith provided me with the determination to not listen to others/outsiders who thought I would never succeed.

As a result, today E2 Optics works with the largest companies on the planet and for some of the most aggressive data center build-out projects in the US. Since the inception of E2 Optics, the company has grown to more than $125M in revenue, employs more than 800 people, and has received numerous industry accolades.

What role does E2 Optics play in the Digital Infrastructure industry / ecosystem?

E2 Optics plays a vital role. Our approach is to start with highly qualified, infrastructure designs which seamlessly integrate audiovisual, electronic security, structured cabling, and wireless/DAS solutions.

Once the design is set, our highly trained field personnel are responsible for installing and maintaining infrastructure solutions throughout the data center. Our clients benefit from our unwavering commitment to safety and quality, which originates from core values that foster healthy, lasting relationships. We’ve set the new standard, resulting in our clients making E2 Optics one of America’s largest and fastest-growing companies. 

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DE&I) has been top of mind for the industry. Did you face any obstacles starting and establishing a woman-owned company? Can you talk about DE&I programs that you have instituted?

For me, being a woman-owned business in a predominately male-driven industry has been the biggest challenge I’ve had to overcome. This obstacle had ripple effects, including securing bank funding and establishing relationships with clients, manufacturers, and partners. Through it all, I’ve held tight to my core values and have been able to break through the barriers of entry and also became a leader in the industry.

As a result of this experience, DE&I is not a program here at E2 Optics—it’s in our DNA. I’ve established an inclusive, qualified,  and diverse workplace culture that is exemplified daily. I’m proud to say that 46 percent of our workforce is racially and ethnically diverse. In addition, 47 percent of our extended leadership team is female. I stand firm that our people are our greatest asset.

We seek out and encourage opportunities to capitalize on diverse perspectives, broader inclusion, and a more equitable workplace. Our strategy is based on listening, learning, and acting by demonstrating mutual respect for different viewpoints, opinions, thoughts, and ideas. We pursue cultural transformation and affect positive change across communities by advocating for policies and programs that promote DE&I.

With our ever-increasing dependency on digital infrastructure, what impact did the pandemic have on your business?

During the past 18+ months, we’ve seen exponential growth in the digital infrastructure space. As a result, we saw a huge uptick in the need for skilled technicians. This has led me to make substantial investments in launching regional training centers. E2 Optics completed construction of three state-of-the-art BICSI-certified training facilities in 2020, thus launching a national training program supporting the continuing education and career pathing of E2 Optics’ technical resources.

I doubled down on long-term investments in operational systems, people, and training in the face of economic uncertainty. I’ve also invested in growing the executive leadership team, a step that has allowed E2 Optics to prevent the economic downturn from negatively impacting growth.

I believe the digital workplace will continue to fuel growth in our industry. As more companies are evolving to a remote workforce and schools look to have online options in place for their student body, data centers are critical to successfully manage and maintain these initiatives. Hybrid cloud providers will continue to play a pivotal role in this growth. I believe these third-party providers help combat latency and ensure achieving necessary requirements moving forward. As businesses continue to scale globally, the need to ensure that local requirements are being met has become even more important. Through hybrid cloud providers, companies can ensure their services are all-encompassing and available to everyone.

I believe the implementation and success of hybrid cloud providers will significantly transform the post-pandemic world. This is where E2 Optics leads the industry by providing seamless installation of low voltage integrated solutions.

E2 Optics seems to have built a robust partner ecosystem. How did you go about doing that?

For me, a successful partner ecosystem is made from a human-centric approach. I believe that technology needs to be combined with a purposeful focus on the human element. By creating a partner ecosystem, we are opening up to a more diverse range of capabilities and ideas, resulting in solutions exceeding their expectations.

As part of our inclusive culture, our partner ecosystem has harnessed the ingenuity and agility of our start-up beginnings to pair them with the scale and stability of larger enterprises. This is achieved through understanding each other’s strengths, contributions, and drivers.

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

Never give up on your vision! If someone tells you that you cannot do something, don’t listen to them. Rely on your tenacity, beliefs, and fearlessness while trusting that you will make it happen. Always remember it’s ok to fail; your failures are what bring you future success. There will be naysayers who will try to keep you down. Surround yourself with a core team that helps boost your confidence. Believe in your vision, believe in yourself, and continue to pursue your dreams. Those dreams are closer to your reach than you may think.