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Bill Gao of Big Data Exchange (BDx): “Customer data needs to be stored “

Another cultural challenge is that Chinese customers are much more demanding than international customers. For example, we have toll-free 24/7 phone numbers that we provide to our customers in case of an emergency, but they bypass that and go directly to their sales representative. In Chinese business culture, the belief is that we sold our […]

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Another cultural challenge is that Chinese customers are much more demanding than international customers. For example, we have toll-free 24/7 phone numbers that we provide to our customers in case of an emergency, but they bypass that and go directly to their sales representative. In Chinese business culture, the belief is that we sold our services to the customer and the sales representative is personally responsible for making sure that service operates correctly. My sales team members constantly have their phones with them so they can be ready to assist if needed.


I had the pleasure of interviewing Bill Gao, CEO Greater China for Big Data Exchange (BDx). Gao is a native of Beijing, China, and has more than 20 years of experience in the legal and telecommunications industries. Gao’s role with the Pan-Asian data center cluster includes helping the company navigate development opportunities throughout China and Hong Kong. His telecom and legal background and time spent representing other companies like BT, Telstra and Nokia gives him a unique perspective into the Chinese market.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

It’s an interesting story that ended with the right set of opportunities presenting themselves, but that begins with personal roots. I met my wife 25 years ago in Beijing. Before we were married, she went to the U.S. for business school while I stayed in Beijing. At that time, you could only make international calls from the Beijing Long Distance Call Bureau building, and it was very expensive at approximately 35 RMB per minute. The average salary in Beijing was RMB 200 a month. I was spending most of my money on long distance and taking a lot of time to go to Beijing Long Distance Call Bureau, where it was the only place I could make those calls to talk with the woman who I would one day marry. Throughout that process, I decided that I would commit to making it easier for people to communicate if I were given the chance.

I joined my wife in the U.S. eventually to attend law school George Washington University. Upon graduation, I had three offers in China. One offer was for a large bank, another was for a securities company and the third was for Nokia. With my commitment to foster easier communication in mind, I accepted the Nokia offer. The company was the primary telecom equipment manufacturer for mobile phones, and it was a step in the right direction.

Are you working on any new or exciting projects now?

Yes, I’m overseeing the process of building a new data center in Nanjing, China. It’s in the final stages of construction and it will be a flagship facility for BDx when it opens in late 2020 or early 2021. At its most basic definition, a data center is a place where computer systems are housed where companies store their data. Nanjing is in the heart of the Yangtze River Delta, China’s richest region and the country’s biggest import and export base. Because of the rich foreign investment, there are numerous companies located outside of China that need local data centers to store data for their Chinese operations. The project is exciting not only because it’s a newly constructed facility, but because it will offer customers the ability to connect to multi carriers, which is a term for a company that usually provides mobile, voice or data services. In China, the majority of data centers are owned or in exclusive partnerships with one of the major Chinese carriers. While effective, that model can be challenging for international companies because it limits where and how data can be shared. Most of our customers are international Fortune 500 companies, and they require a robust network that is as borderless as they are. Therefore, the model of partnering with just one carrier in our data center wouldn’t serve our customers’ needs for low latency and high resiliency. Designing and building a multi-carrier and multi cloud data center in China presents challenges because it requires more licenses approved by government authorities and collaboration with carriers and cloud service providers, but we’ve made big progress to achieve the target to deliver world-class service to our customers.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

My friend and colleague Simon Brookes has been a constant figure in my personal and professional life over the past 20 years. He recruited me to work for Telstra in 2002. I was general counsel for Telstra and helped build the company’s presence in China. The telecom business in China is very sensitive and one of the most regulated industries in the country. Simon helped me to understand how to balance the company’s expectations and policies while adhering to the strict Chinese regulations. It was a great lesson to learn about values early in my career. He also coached me on the need to research ever evolving telecom laws daily and to balance compliance with company policy in a way that supports the commercial team to develop in China.

Over the years, we’ve worked in different countries at times, but we’ve always remained in contact and are lifelong friends. He’s the only person over the past 20 years that has remained in my professional life, and we’ve encouraged each other throughout our careers. Simon eventually left Telstra and joined iSquared Capital, a shareholder for BDx, supervising the legal activities. He introduced BDx to me, and now we are working together again. The lessons he taught me about balancing regulations and company interest is what helps me be effective at my job now.

What do you think are the new markets in China that may become the next “big thing”? What challenges does that new market face? How would you address it?

We have strong potential to build up the data center and digital infrastructure industry even more. China recently announced its 14th 5-year plan for national economic and social development, and long-term vision for 2035. During the plenum, it was announced the nation would strive to boost high tech and self-reliance. China has new regulations allowing foreign banks, securities and insurance companies to have wholly owned subsidiaries to operate local businesses in China. Customer data needs to be stored in the country and those companies will need at least two data centers to back up their data storage. Fortunately, BDx already had a strong history of serving the financial services industry, and we’re in a good position to help new businesses coming into the country.

In an effort to support economic growth within China, the government launched a new infrastructure initiative this year. The COVID-19 pandemic, which has led to people working remotely, and turning to the internet for entertainment and shopping, has made the demand for colocation and data centers rise along with it, and so the need for services like ours is higher than ever. Not to mention, China’s nationwide rollout of 5G and increased use of virtual reality for high definition video gaming, which relies on digital infrastructure and drives demand.

Can you share the top challenges of doing business in China and how you overcame them?

As we’ve just laid out, there are several opportunities for companies like BDx to prosper in China, but opportunities always come with challenges. One of the biggest challenges is obtaining the proper licenses necessary to do business in China. It can be a lengthy and cumbersome project if you’re not familiar with the process, especially for operations who wish to remain carrier-neutral because carriers aren’t accustomed to that. With a new data center opening soon in Nanjing and a facility operational in Guangzhou, we are working with our partner company which has already obtained the necessary Internet Data Center license (IDC) and ISP licences to operate legally in China. The nation is also in the process of deregulating the market for foreign investors, and we’re researching those regulations further to see how we can be amongst the first to offer more telecom services.

There are also cultural differences to overcome. As a Beijing native, I’ve grown used to the nature of doing business in China, but the culture has evolved during my professional life. In 2000, China had not yet joined the World Trade Organization (WTO), and the business climate was not truly internationally focused yet. After China joined the WTO, we saw people regularly leave China to study in the U.S., Canada, Australia and Britain before coming back to China to work. In the foreign invested companies, the working language is primarily English, which can be a challenge for those who don’t speak the language. I used to help as an interpreter in various meetings and seminars, but now, it’s not as necessary because most people speak English fluently due to studying abroad.

Another cultural challenge is that Chinese customers are much more demanding than international customers. For example, we have toll-free 24/7 phone numbers that we provide to our customers in case of an emergency, but they bypass that and go directly to their sales representative. In Chinese business culture, the belief is that we sold our services to the customer and the sales representative is personally responsible for making sure that service operates correctly. My sales team members constantly have their phones with them so they can be ready to assist if needed.

Finally, many Chinese customers are cost sensitive in IT expenditure. They want high quality service, but with low prices. We’re educating customers that even if our product costs more upfront, it will save them in the long term because of the speed and efficiency services like ours enable. Our approach is working so far, as we’ve secured several high-end customers for our Guangzhou and Nanjing data centers.

We keep hearing about the “Trade War”. What are your thoughts about it? Given the unknowns, how do you plan to pivot?

The ongoing trade negotiations between the U.S. and China have impacted the two countries, and the whole world. BDx is a Hong Kong-based company, but we’re especially watching it closely because of our operations in China. While there is some impact on our business, I believe nothing will stop trade and communications between China and the rest of the world, including the U.S. restrictions that previously prohibited U.S. banks and insurance companies from entering into China. Restrictions are still being loosened and those companies will continue to require data center services in China. BDx will continue to focus on providing carrier-neutral facilities that allow us to support global customers. Beyond foreign relations with the U.S., there are large demands for international connectivity from Chinese companies expanding into Southeast Asia and other parts of the world, and facilities like ours will help them connect from China to their operations in other countries. Regardless of the negotiations, our customers have told us they anticipate their China operations having a higher growth rate than operations in other developed markets, making China one of the more important markets for them.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“The people who get on in this world are the people who get up and look for circumstances they want, and if they cannot find them, make them.” — Bernard Shaw

This is a quote my classmates wrote in my middle school graduation album. I didn’t know who said this 20 years later. While visiting the U.K., I visited an historic hotel that has a room where Bernard Shaw once stayed. In that room was the very quote from my graduation album, which was a good surprise! The quote encourages me to keep trying and never give up. If we keep trying to reach our goals, there’s a chance that we will succeed one day. Encouraged by such spirit, I’ve had some good successes in my career, such as obtaining approval to set up China’s first foreign invested enterprise holding company for Nokia right after China revised its Foreign Investment Law in 2002. I also worked for Telstra to reach an agreement with the Beijing Olympic Games Organizing Committee (BOCOG) to appoint Telstra as the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games’ official telecom service advisor from 2003–2008, and restructuring Telstra’s investment in China’s internet business. I also worked on the successful NYSE IPOs of Soufun in 2010 and Autohome in 2013. Of course, a big achievement now is the building of our new data center in Nanjing.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

In history, communications technology development has brought great changes to human life, especially in the past 20 years. For example, I’ve gone from having to go to one place to talk to someone across the world to now having multiple options that are fast and convenient. 5G, virtual reality, artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things, plus the work we are doing today will let people enjoy convenient universal communications service and conquer the distance between us. Together, these advances will make life more beautiful.

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