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In this episode, Raymond interviews Bob Cassiliano, Chairman and CEO of the 7×24 Exchange International. The two talked about the creation of 7×24, its growth over the years and changes, and improvements made to its annual conferences.

The 7×24 Conference held by 7×24 Exchange International — a nonprofit education forum aimed at helping companies in various sectors overcome challenges — enables companies and organizations from several industries, such as data centers, manufacturing and technology to collaborate and share information to improve.

In this episode of Not Your Father’s Data Center podcast, host Raymond Hawkins interviews Bob Cassiliano, Chairman and CEO of the 7×24 Exchange International. The two talked about the creation of 7×24, its growth over the years and changes, and improvements made to its annual conferences.

Hawkins and Cassiliano also went on to discuss …

  1. The earlier years of 7×24 and his background with the company
  2. The mission and goals the conferences aim to achieve
  3. What goes into strategizing and planning these conferences for success

“We look towards four aspects that we think deliver the differentiation for us. The number one is the content; we always try to put together a program that is of high quality with top-notch presenters. The venue where we take them, we go to four- and five-star resorts, and we do that because over the years through our evaluations it became very obvious where the attendees like to be – we also look at how the attendees are treated right …,” said Cassiliano.

He added the welcoming aspect of the event is a further display of the type of hospitality they aim to offer and provide at the 7×24 conference. “The thing we are most proud of, and we really believe really differentiates us from everybody, is how guest-friendly we are. So, if you attend the conference and you bring a guest, that guest is allowed to attend our welcome reception on Sunday night, the conference keynote on Monday morning, any nighttime events that we have, as well as the Wednesday morning breakfast,” said Cassiliano. Bob Cassiliano is the Chairman and CEO of the 7×24 Exchange International. He’s been with 7×24 since 1990, which was formerly called the Uninterruptible Uptime Users Group when he joined. He became CEO in 2011 and has held the role since. Cassiliano is a graduate of New York City College of Technology where he earned a degree in electrical technology.

Read the full transcript below:

Raymond Hawkins: All right. Welcome everybody to another edition of Not Your Father’s Data Centre. I’m Raymond Hawkins, Chief Revenue Officer at Compass Datacenters here in Dallas, Texas.

Today, we are joined by Bob Cassiliano. Multiple titles, the one that most of us would know him as is the Chairman and CEO of 7×24, but he also is President and CEO of Business Information Services. Bob, before we get into 7×24, we’d love to hear a little bit about you, where you grew up, where’s home, how’d you get into the 7×24 event business, but tell us a little bit about you before we get into what’s going on at 7×24 and meeting post COVID.

Bob Cassiliano: Ray, thank you for the invitation. Really appreciate getting on this podcast. Yes, I was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York. I had two wonderful parents, a mother who made sure that every holiday had an Italian feast for a meal, and a father who I was extremely proud of, a World War II hero. He had a Silver Star for the Battle of the Bulge, two Purple Hearts and a medal of a bronze medal, and as well as a number of other decorations. My brother, Lou, Steven, and my sister Karen, we all lived together. I grew up as a typical kid in Brooklyn, played stickball in the schoolyard, baseball for St. Bernadette, touch football, hung out in the candy store, went to St. Rosalie Elementary School, Fort Hamilton High School. I graduated from New York City Community College, which is now called City Tech, I graduated with a degree in electrical technology.

I met my wife Anna. We got married in Regina Pacis, which is a church that the Pope now designated as a Basilica. We had four children, Karine, Barbie, Robert and Michael. We did a typical migration of the time. We moved from Brooklyn to Staten Island to New Jersey, and today we live in Florida. As far as my business career, started out in IBM. I was a field engineer, moved on in my career, became the service branch manager for the New York Brokerage branch office. At some point in time, one of my clients, Salomon Brothers, gave me a Godfather type offer, one that I couldn’t refuse, and so I moved on, as much as I bled blue, I did move to Salomon Brothers and became a senior operating officer managing their technology operations globally.

In 1990, the founders of 7×24 Exchange, which at the time was called the Uninterruptible Uptime Users Group, invited me to a dinner at Don Pepe’s restaurant in Newark, New Jersey, at which time they asked if I would entertain joining their board, which I was honoured to do. I became president of the board of directors and of the organisation, in a few years I became chairman, and then in 2011 I was promoted up to CEO of the organisation, and that’s where I reside today within 7×24 exchange.

Raymond Hawkins: All right, before we get too sidetracked and get rolling down the business side, I do want to hang on to a few of the personal things. First of all, dad is a Silver Star winner in World War II, we might do a whole second episode just talking about your dad and what he did to earn the Silver Star. So number one, thank you for his service and thank you for his heroism because as a Marine vet myself, you don’t win the Silver Star for just showing up. For those of our listeners who don’t know, that is one notch below the Medal of Honour so it is an incredible award, given anybody. So appreciate your dad’s heroism. So want to highlight that one.

Two, stickball in the streets. I got to tell you that I think you and I, I might be the last generation that knows what it was to cut off a broom handle and play ball in the streets and yell, “Car,” and that was the immediate time out. Everybody stepped off while the car drove by and then the game picked back up again. I don’t think my kids have ever seen a stickball. So to me those were fond days and fond memories and I loved getting to play in the street and play stickball and feel a little bit for… I think I heard the average age of Major League Baseball’s viewers is 54, so I hope the younger generation picks up on what is the joy of big league baseball.

All right. One other thing in your intro that I wanted to highlight, did you tell me that in 1990, 7×24 was called the Uninterruptible Uptime Users Group? UUUG?

Bob Cassiliano: Yes. My legacy to the organisation was changing that name.

Raymond Hawkins: I was just going to say, somebody could change that. Who came up with Uninterruptable Uptime Users Group? Whoever did that, I see why they needed some leadership, Bob.

Bob Cassiliano: They felt the acronym was a catchy phrase that would get people.

Raymond Hawkins: Yeah, UUUG.

Bob Cassiliano: You’re right. And they wanted to be able to bring CIOs and executive level people to the event, and I told him, “I don’t think that’s going to do it.”

Raymond Hawkins: Yeah. First of all, I’m not sure, uninterruptible, I guess it’s a word, but that was quite the name. When you [inaudible 00:06:07] that off, I was like, okay, he’s got to have that right, because that can’t be made up. So I’m glad to hear that 7×24, which me and all of our listeners know full well. So before we dive into 7×24, I know you worked in the brokerage organisations, but you started another business as well. So give us a little bit of the background on what you do at Business Information Services before we get rolled on 7×24.

Bob Cassiliano: So business information services, or BIS as most of clients refer to it as, is a technology services and consulting firm. And our main clients, our primary clients, are Wall Street clients and Fortune 500 companies. And we provide consulting services, but mainly in technology and engineering. And so we’ll help staff companies with consultants or permanence. We’ll do projects like move a trading floor, build out a data centre, write disaster recovery plans, write a security policy, all of those type of project efforts.

Raymond Hawkins: Gotcha. Okay. So back in technology, software services, integration, all that kind of stuff for the big brokerage houses. The big financial firms. Got it.

 All right. So you were exposed to the guys who ran UUUG and they invited you to be part of the team in 1990. For those of us in the data centre community, we know 7×24, we recognise it as events run around the world. Take us back to 1990. I’d love to hear the story about how you convinced them to change the name, and then we’ll get rolling on what it looks like at 7×24 today.

Bob Cassiliano: Well, changing the name is just what I told you before. I joined in 1990, the name didn’t change right away, that changed several years later. But it was always something that I knew, as you grow the organisation professionally and as it becomes a larger entity within the industry, that that name had to change. And so eventually we decided that was the way to go.

Raymond Hawkins: So when did 7×24 start to host, well, or in its previous iteration, when did they first start hosting events? I have to admit, I didn’t know it was around in 1990.

Bob Cassiliano: So the organisation was founded in 1989. They held their first meeting in New York City and they had 16 attendees. And so that went on for a while where they had one event a year typically held in either New York in a brokerage house. So that went on for years and the meetings were typically held in New York City or in New Jersey. I remember events in the Radisson Airport in New Jersey where people were using a foil projector with an extension cord that was run outside the room. So we’ve come certainly a long way from there as an organisation.

Raymond Hawkins: So Bob, I’d love to do a poll on our podcast of how many people listening know what you and I mean when we say, “Did you bring your foils?” But I bet there’s a lot of people that have no idea what we’re talking about when we say that.

Bob Cassiliano: The same people wouldn’t know, “Did you hit a ball two sewers?”

Raymond Hawkins: That’s exactly right. Or they wouldn’t know what we mean when we yell, “Car.” They would have no idea what we’re referring to. Same group. That’s exactly right. Did you bring the foils and are they in order? That was another one I’d always… Did you check the order? Yeah, they’re collated. Trust me, they’re good.

All right. So 7×24 gets going. We’re doing early meetings in the late eighties, early nineties. You convince them to change the name. What today, what is 7×24 morphed into? How’s the business changed? And what’s the mission of 7×24 today, Bob?

Bob Cassiliano: The mission of 7×24 Exchange is to be the leading knowledge exchange for those who design, build, operate, and maintain mission-critical enterprise information infrastructures. The organisation is also committed to the challenges of sustainability and look towards giving back through our social responsibility initiative. Now, we do that, Ray, through, we have a website, we have a magazine that comes out twice a year, and we have an e-newsletter that’s monthly. But the primary way that we provide the information is through our conferences, which we hold twice a year.

Raymond Hawkins: So as you lead us into those conferences, how does 7×24 define a successful event today? And I’d love to hear how it changed as well post COVID. What does a successful 7×24 event look like today?

Bob Cassiliano: Look, to have a successful event in any business, you need some kind of a goal and our goal is to provide the premier conference in the industry. And the way we do that, our mantra, what we chant all the time, is education, networking, information sharing, and a memorable experience. Those are the things that, over time, have changed a bit. Education and networking and information sharing were always apart, but have scaled dramatically since the beginning. Our memorable experience is something that started to take place in the later nineties when we started to take the attendees to some very, very nice resorts.

Raymond Hawkins: Gotcha. So education, networking, information exchange and memorable are what you guys measure success by today?

Bob Cassiliano: Well, that’s what we want to deliver. I guess we would measure success by the attendees and the sponsorships we get, that tells us that people are really looking towards our event, as well as the evaluations that we receive during the conference.

Raymond Hawkins: Gotcha. So Bob, there’s lots of events in the industry today. I don’t want to name any of your competitors, but there are other events that host technology and certainly data centre specific conferences. What differentiates 7×24?

Bob Cassiliano: Yeah, so let me say this. The conferences, and I’m sure one of the reasons you’re having this conversation is they’re not that easy to pull off. There’s been a number, and I won’t mention the names either, of mission-critical organisations that used to run conferences that do not run them anymore. They still exist as an organisation, but they don’t run the conferences. Look, we look towards four aspects that we think deliver the differentiation for us. The number one is the content. We always try to put together a programme that is of high quality with top-notch presenters. The venue, where we take them, we go to four and five star resorts. And we do that because over the years, through our evaluations, it became very obvious where the attendees like to be.

We also look at how the attendees are treated. So at our events, which is basically a two and a half day event, all their breakfast, lunches and all the nighttime activities are all included in the price of a ticket. And that ticket is less than any other conference of similar type, of a two and a half day stuff, but all that is included. And you’re at four and five star hotels, you know what kind of breakfast and lunches and nighttime events they put on.

And the thing we are most proud of, and we really believe really differentiates us from everybody, is how guest friendly we are. So if you attend a conference and you bring a guest, that guest is allowed to attend our welcome reception on Sunday night, the conference keynote on Monday morning, any nighttime events that we have, as well as the Wednesday morning breakfast. And as an example of a nighttime event, so we are coming into our Orlando conference in June, June fourth to the seventh will be one in Orlando, and our welcome reception will be geared towards children because the guests, they bring their families. And so we will have a woman, man on stilts. We will have face painting. We will have animals, birds. It’s all geared towards the children. And on Monday night, we’re going to take everybody to Universal Studios where they’ll have dinner and beverages and we close part of the park for the evening. And that’s all included in the price of their ticket. Obviously with the help of our wonderful sponsors, for sure. So those are the factors I think that really differentiate 7×24 Exchange.

Raymond Hawkins: Gotcha. So certainly appreciate the all inclusiveness, the venue, the speakers, who’s there, the guest friendly part, especially if you’re going to go away for a couple of days, getting to bring your significant other matters a lot. So have experienced all of that and certainly understand the value, also the quality of what you get food and where you are. From a conference format perspective, what’s unique about the conference itself that you guys do?

Bob Cassiliano: So we have a spring conference, which is typically in Florida, and a fall conference that is usually either in Texas or Arizona. The conference has a conference keynote speaker. The conference itself goes over two and a half days with nighttime activities that are included. As far as unique requirements for the conference, so we need a hotel that holds at least a thousand people, has at least a thousand rooms. So because our attendees like to come to the hotel and stay there because of all the activities we have going on, they don’t want to transport from one hotel to another. As we get larger now, that’s becoming more and more of a challenge. We also need a certain amount of meeting room space. So we need a ballroom, an auditory for our speakers. We need a room for lunch. We need rooms for breakout sessions.

And in the fall, we have a marquee partner plus programme, which requires a big room for a big evening event by our premier sponsors. So that’s also something that’s needed. And then we need a ballroom that has a certain ballroom height, no chandeliers, because we have massive screens. The screens cover about a hundred feet and they go from 15 to 18 feet high. And don’t forget, that has to be above a stage, so you get pretty high.

And then the latest requirement, which is really something we’ve discovered over the last two years, is with the increase in sponsors, the space that we need that’s required for sponsors. And it’s a little difficult because we don’t go to a convention centre, so we don’t have a separate room for sponsors. When you come out of the auditorium to take a break, when you come out of those doors, that’s where all the sponsor tables are. Well, there’s a limit to those. And we also have to deal with a fire marshal who is one level below God. And so that’s become something that we now have to address.

Raymond Hawkins: So Bob, certainly understand you’re not going to a convention centre and you got to accommodate for all of those vendors and sponsors that are waiting to talk to your attendees. What about the conference programme itself? What are key elements from 24×7’s perspective of the content you’re talking about?

Bob Cassiliano: So we’ve always tried to have a high profile conference keynote. So we’ve had speakers such as Jim Lovell, who is the astronaut in Apollo 13. We’ve had former Governor and now Senator Mitt Romney. We’ve had business leaders like Carly Fiorina, CEO of HP, John Sculley, CEO of Apple. And sports figures like Joe Theismann, a former Super Bowl champion. So we try to have a great conference keynote. We also have keynotes on Tuesday and Wednesday, which we look to have recognised industry leaders as keynotes, as well as session presenters. So that’s very important.

We look to have the hot topics of the day. So through the years, it would be something like harmonics, or watts per square foot, or high density computing, client server technology, energy efficiency. Today, a lot of it focuses on sustainability, artificial intelligence, or AI, and the talent pool in the industry. There’s a lot of focus on that these days. So that’s what we look at. I mentioned to you before about the screens, we learned early on that the audiovisual portion is extremely important and we invest a lot into that. As a matter of fact, if I call the audiovisual team, if I say those words, they get a little upset. They’re a production team. Well, there’s 20 of them at the conference. People don’t all realise we have people in the room, in the back of the room, filming as well as directing what needs to go on. And there’s a slew of people behind the screens with computers and everything, keeping it all going. So the audiovisual portion is extremely, extremely important to the industry.

Raymond Hawkins: Having great speakers, Bob, that you can’t hear or see doesn’t help, so I’m 100% with you on the quality of what you can see and hear goes a long way, for sure.

Bob Cassiliano: Yeah. And look, we also pay great attention to detail. One of them is on the audio part. You come to one of our conferences, you don’t see somebody banging on the mic going, “You hear me? You hear me?” Where you hear that in a lot of places. We learned to fix a lot of that after years of working on it. The detail gets to a level of, we go to a hotel, when doors open and close, we don’t want to hear any noise, any squeaky doors or anything. And that’s one of the reasons we repeat hotels sometimes.

 In the early days, this is one of the changes from what you wanted to know. We used to go to different cities. Couple of reasons we changed that. One, cities, their labour costs are off the charts. Two, the attendees wanted to move to more resort areas, they showed us that. And then three is we got used to certain hotels, actually they got used to us, and so they knew our expectations. And as you work with them over the years, it makes life easier when you go to a hotel that knows your expectation and, by the way, delivers on it. Very important.

Raymond Hawkins: Yeah, for sure. Yeah, getting people that you can depend on matters a bunch. So I think about these events and people all getting together and thank goodness, I think largely the pandemic is behind us, but it has changed the global psychology forever. How has the pandemic, what did it do to change your business during the pandemic and what changes have impacted you coming out of the pandemic now?

Bob Cassiliano: So obviously during 2020 we did not have any conferences, as did no one else in the mission-critical industry have a conference in 2020. What we did do, we tried not to lose the focus on the whole year and we developed a webinar series, which continues today, and we developed an eNewsletter, which is a monthly newsletter that continues through today. But we certainly had some risks, different than some of the other conferences that are run. If you remember, I talked about we need a hotel with a certain amount of rooms. They don’t just give us those rooms. We need to guarantee those rooms years in advance. So you could imagine we got a couple of large bills that year from hotels. Now we wound up being able to negotiate away from paying those bills and move on from there. But that’s what happened. Obviously, other organisations tried to do some virtual conferences, but the reality is we saw it in 2021 that attendees really wanted to come back to an onsite event. And they want to do that because on a Zoom or Microsoft Teams call, the education is limited, the networking is almost nonexistent, information sharing is limited. And of course, the memorable experience doesn’t exist. So that’s what happened and then we moved on from there and had a conference in 2021.

Raymond Hawkins: Well, good. So you guys are back at it and I agree with the people in our business are trying just to get together and meet in person, and I think we’re all Zoomed out a little bit. So my kids joke, my daughter finished her last year of school at what she called Zoom University, because they did all their classes online. I think we’re all ready to see each other in person.

So Bob, what role does leadership play in these conferences? And I’m specifically referring to 7×24’s leadership. When the conferences are on, what are you guys doing?

Bob Cassiliano: So leadership in the organisation, number one, they need to ensure solid financials. So we need financials that can weather the storm. So as an example, we had the Coronavirus pandemic. We went through a whole year of very, very limited revenues. So we needed to be able to weather that storm and that’s one of the things that the leadership has to provide for us. So that’s one.

I believe, this is my belief, that there needs to be a willingness to take a calculated risk. So as an example, in 2021, we ran a spring and a fall conference. No one else in the industry ran a conference. And that was of some risk, there’s no doubt about it, because at that time the hotels weren’t probably going to work a deal with us. So it turned out that that was a phenomenal decision because we wound up getting a whole bunch of attendees and sponsors that really might have went to other events, never came to ours. But once they came, guess what? We’ve kept most of them. So that turned out to be really, really something that worked well for us.

Also, leadership has to consider your limits, know your limits. So we thought about having an international event and we did a bunch of research on it and realised that the format we have just wouldn’t work in other countries. But we could change that, but we decided not to do that because it’s not us. So we just didn’t do that. And then of course, leadership. And when I talk about leadership, it’s the board of directors. They are obviously responsible for strategy going forward.

Raymond Hawkins: So talking about going forward, Bob, what does the future look like for 7×24?

Bob Cassiliano: Look, we’ve had some explosive growth in attendance and in sponsorships and it’s going be important to maintain the format that we have going forward. And I would say that that’s going to be a challenge because with the increase in attendance and sponsorships, the hotels can’t handle the amount of space we need. They’re not going to be able to handle the attendees, the rooms for the attendees we have. So what do we do? We could do a first come first serve kind of conference. We could do a supply and demand pricing structure. Or we could do what we are doing now, and we are researching, because we already had have our hotels picked for 24, 25 and 26. But beyond that, we are looking for a hotel or hotels that can handle our format with the increasing numbers we have. And believe me when I tell you, Raymond, it’s not as easy as it sounds to get that done.

So that’s going to be a big deal for us. I would say conducting the premier conference in the industry, that’s the number one thing in the future. Continuing to do that and focus on that. And I say that because we recently had a banking crisis and there are a number of business leaders who’ll tell you that that banking crisis happened because the executives in those companies took their eye off the ball. And what I keep professing is you need to maintain laser focus on your core mission and your core business. So that’s something extremely important in the future.

The other thing is we just saw what can happen with an economic turn down. We need to look forward and say if something like that were to happen again, are we prepared? What do we do? Do you have a virtual conference? Do you have a hybrid of some sort? Do you do some kind of live-streaming, maybe with the speakers and everything, and somehow get that out to everybody? So look, we’re at the height of the organisation as far as attendees, as far as sponsors, as far as evaluations from people. So we’re at a high point and we look to take it to an even higher level.

Raymond Hawkins: Well, Bob, I certainly appreciate you walking us through, number one, agreeing that you guys are on a premier event and to see that the numbers bear that out is encouraging, exciting to see what the future holds. Love that you already have 24, 25 and 26 mapped out. Let’s hope for no more interruptions to us being able to get together and meet each other in person. With you, you alluded to it being networking. To me, that’s the best thing about events. And I’m not discounting the sessions, but being able to be around my peers where we’re all over the country and all over the world, meeting customers’ needs, being able to spend time with each other and meet in person, to me is priceless. And getting to do it at premier events like yours is so, so great, so we appreciate that.

From a Silver Star, stickball and the Uninterruptible Uptime Users Group to where you are today, we’ve covered a bunch. So Bob, thank you for joining me and talking a little bit about what 7×24 is doing and where it’s headed in the future. We really appreciate having you.

Bob Cassiliano: Raymond, thank you very much. Really appreciate the opportunity you’ve given me to talk about 7×24 Exchange and if you ever have a chance to come to an event, you got a complimentary pass.

Raymond Hawkins: Oh, I will look you up, Bob. I think I know some of my team is going to Orlando. I already know that one for sure. I may tag it along. So thank you so much.