People first always, whether it’s your own team or customers at any given time. When I think back to the times I sought my father for advice, one thing that I always noticed is that other people looked up to him, not just family. He was well respected because he cared about his coworkers and the customers he worked with. I wanted to lead my team the same way with respect for my peers, teammates, and customers.
As part of my series about the leadership lessons of accomplished business leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Mark Noonan, Chief Revenue Officer, Data Foundry.
Mark graduated from the University of Texas with a degree in Psychology. In 2000, Mark joined Data Foundry as sales manager, bringing his prior experience in the data center industry from Dell’s enterprise sales group. Through the years, Mark has risen within the company by becoming its first VP of Sales, overseeing all markets. Now, Mark leads and oversees the Sales, Sales Engineering, Marketing, and Customer Success teams as Data Foundry’s Chief Revenue Officer.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
The Internet boom helped propel and kick start my career initially. I started out with Dell’s enterprise sales group and focused on enterprise and service. In 2000, the colocation business was in its early stages. It was very brand new. I could see the vision and opportunity of that market. From this perspective, the same pitch we use today at Data Foundry is the same pitch we use today. Outsource your data center needs with us and we let our years of experience and dedicated customer success team do the rest.
In 2000, it was an untapped market, so there was a lot of potential.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?
The dot-com bust in 2003. In my early days when I was in direct sales, we saw multiple business and their business plans that were head scratchers. How will this business be profitable? Very well-funded and VC backed organizations, that on the surface looked like they were destined for success but back then, we had to turn down a lot of business. Our owner saw the realistic situation that under the surface these companies had no long-term vision for scale and success. We signed fewer companies at the time, but signed real companies that had scale and vision that matched our own.
Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
We didn’t have a choice, we had to succeed or become one of the many companies who went bust in 2003. We either succeeded or failed. We were selective of clients that would allow us to scale and allow our clients to scale their IT needs. We got creative with new markets for prospects, and then eventually we grew. We expanded our data center footprint in the market and became the market leader for the colocation business.
So, how are things going today? How did grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?
We’ve seen an impact due to COVID-19 like many other businesses. At the same time, we’ve seen new opportunities open up as a result of the pandemic, across various business verticals that we serve.
We’re planning to make new investments in the company to help propel us in 2021 and beyond. Our business is extremely stable for what we do for a living. We service clients across a spectrum of large verticals. We have a large diversified customer base that use our service for long-term business success.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Through the lens of selling these services in the early stages of the internet, it was a new for companies to think of doing new business this way.
I put a lot of hours in the sales process — selling, touring, networking, and we came up with a bold idea and dropped it into the lap of our CFO. Within 10-seconds, he decided quickly that it wasn’t a good idea.
We came up with the idea to house IT equipment on our own properties. It was unheard of at the time.
He eventually bought in.
What I learned is that it’s easier to gain buy-in early for out-of-the-box ideas and it’s good to engage earlier when the ideas are new and fresh.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Our white-glove approach to service is what makes us stand out. It’s what makes us unique in the market, and our dedicated customer success team helps us move the needle even more.
It’s quite common for us to hear from clients regularly about various Data Foundry staff members going above and beyond for their needs.
Whether it’s someone in the networking team, or our data center staff, we have helped clients get out of a pinch with any issues that may arise. Our staff truly makes Data Foundry shine and what it is today.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
For me, it’s about the relationships. I’ve had the benefit of having my core staff team members with me, in some cases for almost 20 years. What that means is that we have such a deep relationship with our team and carrying about them on a personal level.
It helps us move past the day-to-day fires with the right context and we do not overreact or underreact. We have worked so long with our team that we’ve learned to filter the problems through the right lens.
The flip-side of the coin is that it helps us enjoy the wins on a personal level.
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?
When I think of my ups and downs in my career, the person I turn to for advice is my father. He was a businessman working in corporate American for more than 50 years. He also had ups and downs like
everyone else, so he provided a lot of guidance and wisdom in my career thus far.
What my dad always emphasized was the human side of being in a managerial position, I think he had a very high emotional IQ. It benefited him long-term in his career, and the people he worked with would say that he was a genuine and sincere leader. And I try to pattern myself that way as well.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I have purposefully participated in mentoring groups and have done both individual and group-setting style mentoring groups. I have shared my life-experiences in the business world and try to give career advice to others that need guidance.
I subscribe to the idea of having a longer term outlook. People that have had the right opportunity in front of them, I have guided them to look past the short-term gain and think of a long-term career trajectory path.
On some level, I pay it forward when I can to those who are seeking a fruitful and long career.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my company” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- Get buy in early with out-of-the box ideas. As I talked about earlier, when I approached my CFO with our new business model he initially didn’t want to do it. Then, he saw the vision we had for the company and the eventual success it brought to Data Foundry.
- People first always, whether it’s your own team or customers at any given time. When I think back to the times I sought my father for advice, one thing that I always noticed is that other people looked up to him, not just family. He was well respected because he cared about his coworkers and the customers he worked with. I wanted to lead my team the same way with respect for my peers, teammates, and customers.
- Service matters and dedicated long-term service helps enterprises thrive. Our white-glove approach to customer service has helped our clients scale and Data Foundry scale together. Service to our customers and service to our team helps everyone thrive.
- Do not be afraid to step up to any challenge, whether it’s natural or unnatural. While the pandemic has made several organizations pivot entirely, we wanted to step up to the challenge and continue to operate and be there for new and current customers alike.
- Pay it forward when you can. This echoes back to my sentiments on being a people person. Paying it forward when you can in business by being a mentor, helping hand, or just a listening ear, this can really impact people seeking that help.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start 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. 🙂
Leaders mentoring not only their staff but also people that need a stepping stone in their or careers.
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This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!