Name: Keith Taylor
Time with Equinix: 12 years
Education: Bishops University, Quebec
Company headquarters: Redwood Shores, California
Revenue: Just over $1.2 billion last year; guidance for $1.5 billion this year
Number of countries: 12
Number of employees total: 2,321, including 400 from a recent acquisition, with plans to hire another 400 this year
Number CFO oversees: 170, not all direct
About the company: Equinix offers a global infrastructure platform, including state-of-the-art data centers, for mission-critical business operations across a range of industries. The company’s website is http://www.equinix.com
1. Where did you start in finance and what experiences led you to the job you have today?
I started in finance in Toronto. Coming out of university, I worked for an accounting firm that at the time was called Ernst & Winnie. That led me to go to one of my customers, Becton Dickinson, a medical device company in New Jersey. I went there originally in the accounting and tax field, and then I had the opportunity to go to their headquarters in New Jersey as an analyst. Ultimately, the real opportunity was when I came out to Silicon Valley and worked for a company called International Wireless Communications. That ultimately put me on a track to be a CFO. The reasons for that were because all of our interests were outside the U.S. — we were in Asia and we were in South America. So it was a unique structure. Those were tough places to do business for an American firm. That also introduced me to the company I work for today — the people I was close to at IWC introduced me to the founders of Equinix.
2. Who was an influential boss for you and what lessons did they teach you about management and leadership?
I’ve had a couple of very interesting bosses, but one that I thought was influential was Phil Koen — a very intelligent, highly thoughtful guy. He left us to become CEO of Savvis. I learned a lot from him. One [lesson] was stylistic, but others were analytical skills and sheer smarts. It put me on a road, not to emulate him because we all have our strengths and weaknesses, but he put me on the road to understanding that personal relationships are important and how you interact with people can make a difference in how you get things done. I also look to the chairman [Peter Van Camp] of my company today and my CEO [Stephen M. Smith]. They influence me in how I behave and how I react. I’ve been very lucky to have bosses that really want to see me do well in life. I get good feedback on a very regular basis.
3. What are the biggest challenges facing CFOs today?
As I think about our business, it’s not just CFOs, but for companies that are our size, it’s the globalization, the sheer scale of managing companies on a worldwide basis, and global growth. Something else I think is challenging and why CFOs have a crappy job sometimes is the regulatory environment. The buck stops with us. We can make ourselves anti-competitive globally because our competitors don’t have to deal with the same regulations.
4. What is a good day at work like for you?
I’m one of those few people, and you could even ask my wife, I actually like work and I’m not a workaholic. I have a pretty nice balance in my life. I like coming to work and making a difference. When I know that we’ve positioned ourselves to create value for our customers and they can see that, then that’s a good day for me. I am a customer-focused CFO. It’s hard to put into words sometimes, but you know when you win a big deal and you go, ‘man, they’re going to use us all over the world!’ And then just the fact that we’re growing, that we’re scaling the business. I take a lot of satisfaction in working with the people around me to create what we have today.
5. How would you characterize your management style?
I’m relatively open. I’m what I’d call a forward, straight-talking individual. I’m very customer-friendly. I wear my emotions, unfortunately, on my sleeve. I’m not a yeller, not a screamer, but people can certainly tell when I’m not happy. You can see it in my expression and in my body language. We’re a pretty easy company to work with. We won’t take a deal to the nth degree where it becomes confrontational … Sometimes both parties should walk away feeling good about a deal [even if it doesn’t work out].
6. What strengths/qualities do you look for in job candidates?
Hopefully, it’s a little bit like what I just said about the way I see the world. I have been hiring some senior people lately in the finance organization and it’s really about their ability to operate in this type of environment. I don’t want them having a style that is substantially different from mine, even realizing that we are all different. I’m very comfortable hiring people that are smarter than me. I have come to grips [with accepting] that I’m not the smartest person in the room. And I want people who are good at dealing with difficult situations. Hopefully, they don’t lose their composure; hopefully, they don’t curl up in a corner and suck their thumb, they just deal with it.
7. What are some of your favorite interview questions or techniques to elicit information to determine whether a candidate will be successful at your company? What sort of answers send up red flags for you and make you think a job candidate wouldn’t be a good fit?
The first one is I think you want to understand the character of the person, so in many ways it’s not about the job, per se. If somebody is in the position where I’m interviewing them, then I know they’re capable. They’ve all got to that position because they’re capable and they’ve all been vetted. So, I want to get a sense of what they’re like. if they tend to be very outsdoorsy, that’s a positive to me because then I know they’ve got a lot of energy. I think that it’s important to understand their motivations and where they put balance in their life. When it comes to the job-specific side, I want to ask them how they deal with conflict. We’re very collegial. So if they deal with conflict poorly or they say, ‘well, if a person does this here’s how I’m going to deal with it’ that might not be the right fit. That’s one of the most important things — dealing with conflict and dealing with issues where we’re not quite on our game, so how do we get back on our game.
8. What is it about your current job, at this particular company, that sets it apart from other chief finance positions?
I love being part of the Internet and recognizing we’re an Internet infrastructure company, so most of our business revolves around Internet real estate. We’re quasi-telecommunications, we’re quasi-technology, so what I like about our company is that we’re a hybrid and we’re high growth. We’ve spent billions of dollars in the last four years. What’s different about this job is that we raise capital. That’s part of the challenge we have with our investor base is that we make such large investments. One of our largest builds was a $282 million investment — that’s just one data center. We have 95 data centers around the world. We’re making $100 million bets. I’m dealing with numbers that I never thought I would deal with. And just the sheer growth that we see in our opportunities.
9. What do you do to unwind from a hectic day?
I play ice hockey. I certainly enjoy that. I’m the center. I’m not bad for an old fart. I’m the oldest guy on my team, but I’m still in pretty good shape and I still have some get up and go. Also, spending time with my wife and three kids. Not to sound hokey, but it is good to get home. Just kicking back and walking the dog or chatting with the children, those all put you in a sense of reality. Sometimes work is unreal. Home is home and hopefully that’s what keeps us intact.
10. If you weren’t doing this job, what would you be doing?
I have aspirations to run a business. But I certainly like the role I’m in and I’m very comfortable in my own skin to be in a support role for my boss. But even so I have higher aspirations as well. I also have aspirations to sit on boards. And I’d like to travel. I love the world. I love society and the people. [Recently], I was in Frankfurt and London, and I can just sit [in those cities] and watch the world go by.