A Career Path for Veterans in the Data Center Industry

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In this episode we talk with Cofounder and Chairman of Salute Mission Critical, Lee Kirby, about the career opportunities available to military veterans in the data center industry.

Announcer: Welcome to Not Your Father’s Data Center Podcast, brought to you by Compass Datacenters. We build for what’s next. Now here’s your host, Raymond Hawkins.

Raymond Hawkins: All right. Welcome again to another edition of Not Your Father’s Data Center Podcast. Grant and Haley, my apologies to you because it is your father’s data center podcast. And today we are joined by co-founder and chairman of Salute Mission Critical, Lee Kirby. Lee, thank you for joining us today. But I remember, Lee, you going, “Hey, Raymond, we use the veteran thing as an interesting intro and a statement of our values and what we think is important, but we ultimately have a real solution that ultimately keeps people coming back. And that’s the angle we want to talk through.” Is that a fair summary, Lee, of me not having my notes here?

Lee Kirby: It’s a good summary. We think of it kind of like a two-sided coin. We went into this with the altruistic thing in mind, because we wanted to serve the veteran community. At the time, it was 2012, we had come out of a recession. It was following the surge in the Iraq war and there were a lot of unemployed veterans, over 20%, if you were prior enlisted person. And we wanted to do something about that. And we thought we could, because of all the values that you look at, that demographic, we thought we could build a training program that would quickly get them adapted so that they could get experience and move into the industry. At the time, we didn’t think about it, but all of the thousands of dollars of training that went into them can be translated into commercial value very quickly because they’re taught to learn quickly. They’re taught to adapt, and Salute, I think, is living proof that veterans have a much greater value than people think in general. And this isn’t just technical veterans. This is infantrymen and cooks and truck drivers.

Raymond Hawkins: Yeah, I think the basic, so I’m a vet, in the interest of full disclosure, I think some of the basic fundamentals that you get taught in the military of structure and organization and ways to think and understanding a mission and hearing your mission and executing on that mission, I think those basics fit nicely, especially in the operation space and in the data center management space of, “Hey, there’s some things we just have to do. This place has to run,” and I can see how, whether you were an airman or an infantryman or a cook or in the motor pool, how that would translate nicely.

Lee Kirby: Exactly. It’s not like, “It’s five o’clock, we’re going home.” It’s “The mission’s not done yet. We’ll finish this and then we’ll go home.”

Raymond Hawkins: Yeah. And having that inbred or trained into you that, “Hey, that’s normal. It’s normal that we’re going to work until the problem is solved.” And no one’s looking around going, “Hey, don’t y’all realize it’s three minutes after five? I got to leave.” It’s much more mission centric than clock centric, which I think is just part of being A, in the service and then B, a veteran.

Lee Kirby: Exactly.

Raymond Hawkins: Well, I know Lee, and I apologize for not having my notes with me. There was an application or approach that you guys pioneered or designed. Can you give me the official name? And then let’s dig into that a little bit.

Lee Kirby: You bet. We had a mantra that it’s people, process and technology. So we knocked it out of the park by tapping into the veteran community. And then we got our processes in place. And the model for delivering those that we think is much more effective because if you look at a data center site, so often people will outsource to at least three different vendors, one for security, one for critical environment, one for the IT environment. And you can actually staff those with far less people if you combine them into one solution. So our operations model broke down those silos, broke down the under-utilization that goes with that and can deliver a more cost-effective solution without introducing any more risks. So we built our training program around that and to augment that and actually make it where it’s visible, both for us and for clients, we developed a system called IZON and it’s I-Z-O-N, and it’s kind of like eyes on this, but it gives our clients eyes on everything we’re doing.

Lee Kirby: It gives us eyes on everything we’re doing because as our operators are doing rounds and reads, they’ve got their tablets out, they’re documenting that. If they’re doing projects and they’re deploying technology, many times our clients have an SLA with their tenants to get it in by this time to meet the service levels. And those pictures are timestamped and they’re auditable, and our clients can have access to that and be able to see how the project is progressing. So we wanted to build not just a better model, but a transparent model, because so often in the industry, you’re bringing in service providers and you’re trying to find out what they’re doing. We didn’t want you to struggle to know anything we’re doing at any time. So it’s [eyes on this thing 00:04:47].

Raymond Hawkins: So if I’ve got IZON deployed in a data center, so this is if I think about it and I might oversimplify at least, so help me if I do, MOPs and SOPs and EOPS on a tablet or some other electronic device driving my security personnel, my critical infrastructure personnel or my IT personnel around the building and they’re able to know what needs to be done and document what they’re doing all in one place. Is that an oversimplification or is that what we’re talking about?

Lee Kirby: No, that’s what I’m talking about. So what we wanted was it to be an open system. It would help us be more efficient, help us with project management and coordination, but just not block it off to clients who usually have to ask you for a status report and you get the data and give it to them. They can just tap in and see exactly what’s happening and see the evidence of that because the guys take pictures of completed work and-

Raymond Hawkins: Awesome.

Lee Kirby: It’s what really has set us apart because we formed that collaborative partnership with our clients and we want to be a part of their team. We don’t want to be an outsider.

Raymond Hawkins: Lee, that fits so nicely. I’m not, don’t want our podcast to be a Compass promotion, but it fits so nicely with what we do as far as pictures and visibility to our customers. Same thing. Hey, the technologies, everybody’s got it on them. Let’s use it. Let’s photograph it. Let you see, let you understand exactly what’s going on there. I remember back, I worked, unfortunately now many decades ago, in a plant that had security that walked the plant. And I wondered what these little boxes on the wall were. And they told me it’s the security personnel had to touch the box and it was the way that they validated that they were fully making the rounds around the facility. I guess that’s a very old way of doing it. And this is a far more transparent and modern way to be able to see what’s happening and that everybody’s going everywhere they need and paying attention to the problems. So I-Z-O-N.

Lee Kirby: I-Z-O-N. And it’s really helped us during this COVID thing, because we’ve had to limit personnel onsite. We’ve had to protect client personnel and the tenants, so having those systems they can check in on things without feeling like they have to go there. So it’s had all kinds of benefits for us.

Raymond Hawkins: I can understand how people being able to see what’s going on in their data centers, where the inability to travel and go check, it’s just our world’s changed. Right? The idea that you could go run around and check on your facilities and people, a different world we’re in today. I got to say, I bet that IZON has helped in that world tremendously.

Lee Kirby: Very much so and I don’t know how we could have done it without it, because it does give us that remote capability.

Raymond Hawkins: We have listeners outside the US. I would love to ask, Lee. So when I think of veterans, I’m a US based person and a US military vet. How does Salute handle the vet community outside the US?

Lee Kirby: Great question. So everybody knows the size of our military is quite massive compared to a lot of other countries. So there may not be as many veterans available in some of the countries, but we do recruit veterans in the other countries. We’re operating in nine countries currently. And within six months, we’ll probably be having 11 or 12 countries under our belt. And in all those countries, we look to recruit veterans and bring them in and outside of the US we’re probably about 50% veterans just because of the availability. They’ve got different social programs and things than we have, so there’s just not as many veterans, but the DNA of the company and the fabric of everything we’ve put together with the combination of both military and civilian best practices allows us to extend that out and bring on civilians and train them into the procedures.

Lee Kirby: That’s why we were able to start our military spouse program as well and bring military spouses in and put them through the training. So the kind of fabric of the company we think is based on the best practices of both worlds. And that’s helped us extend out into other countries and work with the veterans from those. We’ve got veterans in all nine countries, but we’ve also got veterans that have become ex-pats from other countries. So we’ve got about 12 different militaries represented in Salute ranks. It’s kind of cool. And I never really thought it would get this big. I was just focusing on the US but we ended up following our clients outside of the US, because we’re very client focused and we don’t really develop those markets, but we follow the client to make sure we’re doing enough for them.

Raymond Hawkins: All right, Lee, let’s put you on the spot. Let’s see how many of the nine you can do off the top of your head. I know Jason could do all nine, but chairman.

Lee Kirby: So I’ll start on the bottom of South America, Argentina, Chile, the United States, Canada, Netherlands, Ireland, England, Germany, soon to be Poland, but that doesn’t count in the nine.

Raymond Hawkins: You’re doing good. I think that’s eight. We’ve only got one more.

Lee Kirby: It might be France. I know we’ve done projects all over Italy and France. I’ve got to ask Jason.

Raymond Hawkins: On your first pass, I got Argentina, Chile, the US, Canada, Netherlands, Ireland, England, and Germany. So that’s pretty solid.

Lee Kirby: Yeah.

Raymond Hawkins: France, Italy, and Poland to come.

Lee Kirby: Yes.

Raymond Hawkins: Good stuff. And 12 different militaries. That’s pretty fascinating. So 12 different and what I assume, so I’m a Marine. So I think that means that the Navy, the Coast Guard, the Army and the Air Force are four other militaries, but I’m guessing you’re referring to the countries.

Lee Kirby: Yeah, that’s what I meant was 12 other countries’ militaries, because we don’t operate in Greece, but we’ve got a Greek veteran in there.

Raymond Hawkins: Awesome, very cool.

Lee Kirby: Yes. It goes all around and it’s those same disciplines. All the militaries teach people to be accountable, to be reliable, to think critically. So we can leverage those skills and leverage our processes and training.

Raymond Hawkins: That’s really, really awesome, the idea that there’s 12 different militaries represented and I liked the way you said it, too, Lee, in Salute’s ranks. Very, very cool. You mentioned in our conversation there, can you tell me a few minutes, give me a little insight into the military spouse program. Are they getting the same training? Are they employees as well? How did that come about?

Lee Kirby: We started a couple of years ago with the proof of concept of hiring, extending it out to hire military spouses, because we felt like we’ve proven that we could take this model and take it internationally and train civilians. So there was no reason we couldn’t train what I consider the hidden gem in the military and that’s that spouse that, as their spouse has deployed to combat, and they’ve had to take care of the house and the family and be the one trick pony there, there takes not just a lot of fortitude and stamina but each time I deployed, we had to put together a family support plan because it’s a requirement of the military. In civilian terms, that’s a succession of responsibility and contingency operation. So what happens while I’m gone, she’s got to have all the power of attorneys and be able to operate and do what she needs to do. And worst case what happens, too, if I don’t come back and every military spouse has gone through that.

Lee Kirby: And to be able to go through that kind of deliberate planning, I think that your people are overlooking the skills that they get inherent just to being a military spouse. And you can bring them in to be project managers, to be technicians, that they’re going to learn because they had to learn and adapt quickly. And if they’ve been following an active duty military person around the world, they’ve had to adapt to new countries, cultures, new environments, and most of them still are looking for employment, but they’re disadvantaged because of that. You move from one state to the other within the United States, and you may have to get re-credentialed based on your specialty. So there’s a lot of advantages to being a military spouse, but there’s a lot of hardship too. And we wanted to be able to provide a platform where if you’re a spouse and you’re working with us in California and your spouse gets transferred to North Carolina, we’ve got opportunities across the US. We can keep that person employed and growing through our ranks.

Raymond Hawkins: Lee, I completely agree with you on the military spouse. I might even take it a step further. When guys like you and I deployed, you had your unit and you had the men in your team to be around and to think about, and I know spouses would form groups at home, but they were more times they are spending more time on their own, running the household and taking care of the children and whatnot and doing it largely solo. And I think that they’re every bit as tough if not tougher than the units that deploy and go get into combat. So really, really cool what Salute’s doing by looping in the military spouses and season on the value and expertise there. Lee, I’m going to see if I can get you to brag just a little bit about yourself. I know you spent time in the Army. And if I remember right, you retired as a full bird Colonel and would love to hear just one or two stories about you deploying and what you did.

Raymond Hawkins: I know, compared to the rest of the world, the world thinks that we have a massive force and we spend a ton of money, but coming from a military family, and my little brother has deployed now six times over the span of 10 years. We’d love for you to talk about deployment, what you did and give us just a little bit of history from your perspective and your time in the Army.

Lee Kirby: I’ll probably show my age a little. I enlisted in 1976 and did my four years active duty and then went into the reserves. I wanted to continue serving. And I stayed in the reserves and ended up getting that commission in ’82 and [inaudible 00:13:52] at that time, the military reserve was a strategic force and that we were waiting on World War III if we needed to hit to fill the gap and stand shoulder to shoulder type thing, but then come about the mid 90s, it became an operational reserve and it started being called up quite a bit. And I had moved from the infantry to civil affairs as a branch. And civil affairs is primarily manned by about 90, 95% reservists, because it counts on you bringing skillsets that you have in the civilian community to the military, but having the military skills as well. And when Haiti got hit by a hurricane and a coup and everything in the mid 90s, I got called up to go to Haiti.

Lee Kirby: That was a rewarding deployment that I enjoyed to work with the Dutch Marines and the Special Forces troops there. And we restored order and did humanitarian relief. And I was able to fill in and do my part. I was a captain at that time. And then you go many years later to 2009 and my last call up was to go to Iraq. And I got to serve as what’s called the C-9. And that’s the person that’s responsible for the country’s non-kinetic activity, the rebuilding of the country, restoring power, the judicial system, the medical systems, all of the things that give the civilian sector the capacity to carry on once we’re gone. And got the great chance to work with some real American heroes just all across the board from the E1s to the four-star generals and got a chance to meet and work with General Odierno and Petraeus and Jacoby, just great Americans that just honored to be in the same room with them.

Lee Kirby: And that was kind of the highlight of my career and the real touching point in the final story and I’m probably stumbling over this because I don’t want to make it sound silly, but my son and I had always gone hunting and fishing and everything together, and he ended up joining the military and surprising us with that. And it wasn’t until he deployed that I realized all of the emotional trauma my wife had gone through over the years. Just by happenstance, I ended up running into him in Afghanistan, a combination of equipment failure on his part and a helicopter failure on my part. And we ended up at the same combat outpost, and then just through circumstances did three days of combat together. And so it beat any of our father son outing stories that we could do up until that point. That’s my fondest memory of my military experience, just because I was there with my son, but never really thought that I would be in combat with my son.

Lee Kirby: And just kind of surreal when you look over and you see somebody operating with total efficiency on the line, cleaning their weapon, and you think, “This is a person that I used to change their nappies in.”

Raymond Hawkins: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Really amazing the transformation and to get to serve alongside your son. How awesome is that? Lee, we may have to have you come back just to tell us some general stories. That for me, so my brother retired as a colonel. My grandfather was a colonel, so no general officers in our ranks, but always for me, fascinated by just the whole general classification and what those guys do and the level of responsibility and the time and service and getting to meet Petraeus or Odierno, that’d be pretty awesome stuff. We may just have a tell us some stories about generals follow up podcast in our future, Lee.

Lee Kirby: Sounds great. I’ve got nothing but respect and admiration for them. A lot of people look at them from outside the military and think that these war machines, these total warrior, but they’re academic scholars. Most of them have PhDs. They’re very well read. They’re very smart. They study and understand their enemy. They’re leaps and bounds beyond anything that anybody imagined that’s never been around them because not only are they great warriors, but they’re great thinkers and intellect.

Raymond Hawkins: One of the things that always struck me and I served in the smallest of our branches in the Marine Corps is how much authority we grant young officers and how that stays in place all the way through the general corp. I don’t think people realize the size of the budgets and the size of the operations and the organizations that these men oversee. And you get to these generals and they’re overseeing multiple billion dollar budgets and hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people, and they’re not overseeing them and trying to figure out how to get people to come take toilet paper off your shelves or buy crackers from you. They’re talking about how to conduct a war. And I just think it’s an unbelievable, awesome level of responsibility and that, like you said, the intellect and the servant’s heart and the care for their people is just unbelievable. That’s been my experience with every general officer I’ve ever interacted with.

Lee Kirby: Exactly. And if you look at the lower ranks, I’m always impressed with the enlisted. There was a book called The Strategic Corporal years ago that came out, but you think of the folks that are out there leading squads through the streets and on one street, they’re fighting bad guys, on the next street, they’re restoring a water system and next street, they’re having meetings with the local chieftains and politicians. They have to deal at a level that’s far more than what you would think a 25 year old would be dealing with.

Raymond Hawkins: Hear, hear. The NCOs hold all of our branches together. I’d agree with that. Absolutely. Well, Lee, number one, thank you so much for your service. We appreciate doing that little detour to talk about your time in the military and how it became part of your heart and your desire for what to do with Salute. So, so let’s transition just a little bit back to the Salute conversation. And how did you make the leap from you served for years and years and years in the army. You deployed in a combat. How did you make that leap and connect it to the data center business? How did that connection happen?

Lee Kirby: So I was a reservist starting in the 80s, early 80s, and then got called up another six and a half years altogether. But I think of it like a double helix going back and forth. But I was fortunate because I had established a civilian career before I started getting called up into reserves. So I was able to come back and there would always be some penalties. You go back and start again at a lower level and come back up. But I was able to come back, get myself sorted and keep on with my employment. So I was lucky, but I saw a lot of my colleagues. If you’re in private practice, dentists and doctors and lawyers and stuff, their practices are gone. They have to start out from nothing again. And a lot of people come back without a job. And so people were being impacted to serve their country. The people that were coming off of active duty that had gone were being impacted because they were considered unskilled and standing in the unemployment line.

Lee Kirby: And here I am retiring in 2012 and I’ve got a career that I’ve had in the data center business for quite a while and the relationships I’ve had from there. And I thought that I could take those two and combine them and leverage my relationships, get the past experience I had in operating data centers, put a good training program together where we could operate data centers differently than what they’ve been done today with a more effective model. And we kind of proved that over the last, since 2013 have built it up to where we’re now more than 400 people in nine countries and proven that the model has been accepted by the industry. So, because I was fortunate, I wanted to continue serving and we focused specifically on prior enlisted soldiers, because they’re usually the ones forgotten. A lot of people talk about hiring veterans, and there are some great technically competent veterans that can walk across and transfer their skills, whether it be telecommunications experts, or maybe new submariners, those folks can walk across and transfer.

Lee Kirby: But that’s only about 5% of the population of those 200,000 coming off of active duty every year. There’s at least half of them that are overlooked, considered to be unskilled, but they’ve got so many skills. Like we were mentioning earlier, even if you think about the infantry, a person in the infantry doesn’t just shoot their weapon. They maintain their weapon systems and their vehicle and their communication systems. They do it based on procedures. That sounds like a data center technician in the making that just needs to be taught new equipment. And they’ve been also taught how to learn quickly. So what started out as something from the heart wanting to continue to serve my colleagues has become a secret weapon because we’ve tapped into a resource pool that was overlooked and undervalued, and now we’ve shown the value of it. And I’m seeing more veterans coming into the industry and it just tickles me.

Raymond Hawkins: Just personal story that fits into what you’re describing. So I spent four years in the Marine Corps, driving tanks. Drove the M60A3. You want to talk about a non transferable skill? I did not find a lot of need for tank drivers in civilian life. And so what you’re doing in taking the other fundamental pieces of training, safety and security and responsibility and cleaning and maintaining all those things. It was just a daily part of life, right? You just accepted that, “Hey, this tank’s only going to operate as well as I maintain it. And since it’s going to be the difference between me living or dying on the battlefield, I’m going to take care of it,” I think has a level of standards and performance ingrained in you that translates so beautifully to the civilian life and then particularly in the data center space where, “Hey, we need that facility up just 24/7/365. That’s our only ask. If it could just run all the time and never go down.” Very similar mindset.

Lee Kirby: Yeah.

Raymond Hawkins: That’s pretty awesome. 200,000 guys or men and women both rolling out of the service every year. I did not know that number was that big. That’s a lot of people to absorb into the economy and give them good paying jobs that utilize their skills. That’s a lot of people to have to figure out. So we love what you guys are doing, so not only technically what you’re doing and solving problems for us at Compass and helping us staff our facilities in Canada, I know, but just your heart for doing things for the vets, who I think are so important to us and to our way of life and our security. So thank you for that, Lee.

Lee Kirby: You think about that number 200,000. If we step back and think from an industry point of view, we as an industry compete with other industries, and there’s some great companies out there hiring hundreds of thousands of veterans to stock shelves and make coffee and move furniture and do all kinds of things. And if that’s what a veteran wants to do, they can, but I think our industry is so much more attractive. With the skills that the veterans have, I think they can get in here and very quickly get oriented and start on a career path that’s going to get them into not just a living wage, but a comfortable wage where they can raise families and contribute to an industry that’s continuously changing and growing. And that’s the exciting thing about it. If we can get our industry thinking like that and tapping into this resource pool, I think it’s good for all of us. It’ll drive innovation, it’ll support the growth and there’s nothing but goodness from it.

Raymond Hawkins: So Lee, you’ve given us the insight to where Salute is today and even some future growth as far as countries and number of employees. Can you tell me how you made the transition from your service in the military and switching over after retirement and launching? So can you tell us a couple of stories from the early days, maybe 2014, 2015, an early Salute success story, why, and then maybe at what point that you went, “We’re onto something here. This is going to work.” We’re looking back now, seven or eight years later, and you guys are in nine countries. At what point did you know it was going to work and tell us one or two early valuable lessons or customer wins or something that really changed the way you approach the market?

Lee Kirby: You betcha. And one of them I’m going to have to tell about Compass, but I’ll save that for the second one. But very early on, we won a project. We got started in Chicago, then we won another project in Minneapolis. And our team in Chicago had been pulled from the unemployment ranks. We can tap into any state agency, unemployment agency and find out who the veterans are that are looking for work. So we got those veterans, we got them trained up, we’ve got a good team established, and we were starting to roll through projects. Now that we had to go outside of Chicago, the demographic that we hit are pretty impoverished. About 12% of our guys are homeless when we hire them and it gives them a chance to get re-established. And I apologize for saying guys, guys is unisex to me. So part of that, this team came from the south side of Chicago, which it’s not a nice area.

Lee Kirby: It’s kind scary and Jason Okroy went down there, our CEO, and we had to get these guys to Minneapolis. So he loaned them his car. And these are people that we just met about a month ago, been working with, and they were so thrilled that somebody would trust them to give them their car to go do a project in another state. Some of those guys are still with us today just because it’s kind of the loyalty that pushed and what they want to do. And it was real touching to see how that one little act of humanity just bolstered the team to just get through the project and the productivity to it in the morale and kind of kick-started everything from a human point of view. And as we were getting some traction and we felt like we did have the competency and we wanted to prove it, one person I’ve always respected the heck out of in the industry is Chris Crosby.

Lee Kirby: And I knew that if I could get a chance to prove to Chris that we could deliver services, that this was not a charity, that it was a valuable service to the community, that we would be solid. So we gave ourselves time to get our competency up, to make sure the procedures were there. And then we solicited Chris would give us the chance to clean some data centers for that were under construction. And one thing led to another. The company has grown. We expanded from our original purpose of just getting folks down here and getting them to do the menial tasks, where that’s our entry into the training process for the folks that are truck drivers and cooks and infantry people. But eventually they’ll get into our operations team, which is where we’re engaged now with Compass. And I love that story. When you look back at over the years, how we proved ourselves first at the lowest level, we established a partnership and a collaborative environment and communicating as one team.

Lee Kirby: We’re two companies, but we really, the relationship that’s been built there, I’m extremely proud of because it’s just like showing that trust to the guys in the first project, Chris gave us the opportunity to prove ourselves and we did, and we grew from there, but I knew if I could hit the standards the way Chris is, the quality that he demands, that we would have been industry standard, and we’ve hit it. We’ve made the mark and probably not saying that intelligently, but I knew that that would be, “Okay, now we know that we can sell to anybody because we passed that test.”

Raymond Hawkins: Well, Lee, I don’t know how that will resonate with the folks that listen to us but as the guy who shares an office wall with Chris Crosby and who reports directly to him, he sets as high a standard as anyone I’ve ever worked for and that’s after spending four years in the Marine Corps. So I can understand and appreciate what you’re saying. He has demanding and exacting standards and love that you recognize that and thought, “Hey, if we can impress Chris Crosby, this business might be real. It might be up and rolling.” So I’d agree. He’s a unique individual and one of the early great thinkers in our industry.

Lee Kirby: Totally agree.

Raymond Hawkins: And I love that you started with us by literally cleaning job sites. That’s a great story of how we got together in the beginning and now operating facilities for us. It’s pretty neat stuff.

Lee Kirby: And that progressive level of skill it requires to start out cleaning data centers, then doing hot out cold out containment, and then battery maintenance, and then operations, that’s how we’ve, I think, solved the personnel problem in the industry is we’ve got an ability to bring people in that are considered unskilled and give them a chance to learn the basics, how to operate safely, how to be in a data center safely, how to do things that are needed, maybe not that sexy, but they’re still needed and critical and doing them at a critical environment. Then they progress up the model. So we’ve got the training gates. We’ve got the ability to, if you come to us as a truck driver, maybe you start out on a cleaning team. If you come as a helicopter mechanic, you might start out in battery maintenance.

Lee Kirby: Anywhere we can inject veterans in their training, we’re able to do that with the assessment we give them when they first come in and then they inject in at the right cycle and start taking the training and getting the experience. And then ultimately what we want is them to be on operating teams, which is where I think we’ve really provided the best service to the industry with a new model that’s more effective and more reliable and transparent.

Raymond Hawkins: Lee, it’s interesting. At Compass, we call on a lot of the large cloud providers and the questions they ask us in orders, “Hey, are you in the right market? Is the right capacity?Can you handle our growth? Do you have the right design? Ultimately do the economics work?”, but another one that they ask us about is, “Hey, we’re having a hard time staffing. This market is constrained to have enough people to help us operate the facility.” And we hear that over and over and over again. And it’s interesting in the big markets where you would think there’d be plenty of people, there’s so much demand it’s hard to hang on a well-run competent, sharp operating team. So I think you guys are solving a problem that we see over and over and over again, across all of our customer set, where staffing the facility is as big a challenge as picking where to put the facility.

Raymond Hawkins: So I think it’s an important part of the business because we’re not getting any less data tomorrow. That’s one of the things when folks ask me about the future of our industry, it’s like, I don’t think people understand how much data we are writing every day and how much we’re storing and how that’s got to live somewhere and someone’s got to operate and maintain it.

Lee Kirby: Exactly. And when we partner with a company we’re able to get rid of that personnel shortage issue. And I know that our partnership with Compass, you’re not going to have problems staffing the data centers or having quality operations, and that’s what’s great about it. But the companies that do struggle with that, they’re not investing in the training program. And if they don’t want to invest in training, then they’ve got steal from their competitors and then things become a revolving door, just stealing from each other and that doesn’t help anybody out.

Raymond Hawkins: That’s right. We’re not growing the talent base at all. And at the end of the day, we all need to operate our facilities, getting more folks that understand the needs of our industry and more folks trained is so much more important than just sliding the talent around. Completely agree. Well, Lee, I’m going to put you on the spot about how did you move, going to make you tell more personal stories. How’d you pick the San Juan Islands? How’d you pick Orcas? This is our sponsored by the Orcas Island chamber of commerce. Tell us how you ended up there.

Lee Kirby: So in 1992, I was living in Europe for about six years, and we had decided that it was time to come home. And I got a job in Seattle with Seafirst National Bank. I was a programmer at the time, and we moved to Seattle and settled in Bellevue and have been up here since ’92, but a couple of years after that, we started getting out and touring around and got up to the San Juan Islands and just fell in love with it. And I started looking, “Okay, can I be a park ranger or what can I do?” And as we progressed on, we ended up buying a little piece of property for what we thought would be a retirement home and got the home on it and got it established for weekend residence type thing because it’s only about an hour and a half north of Seattle. It’s not hard to get to. And the more we were here, the more we loved it. And I think it was 2017, the real estate market in Bellevue just was going through the roof.

Lee Kirby: And we’d been established there for a long time, decided it was a good time to cash in and move here permanently. And that was one of the best decisions we ever made. And the islands are quiet. This whole pandemic thing, we’re like double isolated. We’re isolated on an island during regular times and during the pandemic even more so, so it’s been a great place to hole up since March timeframe. And my frequent flyer account is looking like zero and I haven’t seen that since I started.

Raymond Hawkins: So, Lee, that’s great after your two plus decades in Bellevue getting to go up and move to your retirement home. What a great blessing. You’re cracking me up with the frequent flyer. My son came here this past weekend and I went to the airport to pick him up and we were taking an Uber home and I didn’t know where the Uber was. He’s like, “Dad, how can you not remember where the Uber is?” I was like, “I hadn’t been in the airport in nine months. I just don’t remember.” Our world’s changing. Well, Lee, thank you so much for joining me on the podcast today. I know our listeners will enjoy hearing how Salute got started, hearing your story. We’ll see if we can drive a little more activity up there in the San Juan Islands, not too much to bother you folks, but it sure looks beautiful. And I’m really grateful that you were able to spend time with us today. And as a customer of yours, Compass is really grateful for the service you guys provide. You all do an awesome job.

Lee Kirby: And we’re so dang proud to be aligned with Compass. I can’t tell you. Chris Crosby is a great leader in this space and that was our litmus test years ago and just to be aligned in partners going forward, I think we can do some great things and appreciate every opportunity.

Raymond Hawkins: Lee, thanks for joining us today. I appreciate it, bud.

Lee Kirby: You betcha. See you.

Raymond Hawkins: Bye now. Bye-bye. Thank you again for listening to Not Your Father’s Data Center. I am your host Raymond Hawkins with Compass Datacenters. If you have comments, questions, things you’d like to share with us, feel free to reach us on Twitter @CompassDCs. That’s @CompassDCs. You can always get ahold of us through our LinkedIn page and remember subscribe to the podcast on either Apple or Spotify. And thank you so much to our friends at Market Scale. Take care.