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Driving High-Performance Teams in Digital Infrastructure

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Welcome to the Heidrick & Struggles Leadership Podcast. Heidrick is the premier global provider of senior-level executive search and leadership consulting services. Diversity and inclusion, leading through tumultuous times, and building thriving teams and organizations are among the core issues we talk with leaders about every day, including in our podcasts. Thank you for joining the conversation.

Francesca Michel: Hi, I’m Francesca Michel, a principal at Heidrick & Struggles and a member of our global Technology and Digital Infrastructure practices. In today’s podcast, I speak with Laura Ortman, who at the time of our recording was the president and chief revenue officer (CRO) at Cologix, a Stonepeak Infrastructure Partners–backed network-neutral interconnection and hyperscale edge data center company.

Cologix announced on September 28, 2022, that its board of directors had appointed Laura as the company’s chief executive officer, effective October 12, 2022. Laura’s also a board member of Stonepeak Infrastructure Partners–backed Digital Edge. Prior to joining Cologix, Laura was the chief customer officer at Equinix. And earlier she served as vice president and general manager of cloud services at VMware.

Laura, between the $3 billion recapitalization of Cologix earlier this year to unbelievable expansion—notably in Columbus, Ohio; Minnesota; British Columbia; and Quebec—welcome, and thank you for taking the time to speak with us today.

Laura Ortman: Thank you, Francesca. Thank you for having me.

Francesca Michel: You joined Cologix about four years ago, and, at the time, Cologix was a regional co-location provider. Today the company is higher in the hyperscale data center market, building large hyperscale edge data centers. What did the president role mean then, and what was your mandate at that time?

Laura Ortman: When I joined Cologix in August 2018, my mandate was to help develop a strategy in driving growth for the company, developing organizational values and a culture of collaboration and trust, and building upon the company’s role as a strategic and trusted advisor to its customers. In this role, I was also chartered to develop the strategic sales and revenue plan, focusing on deepening customer relationships and broadening the go-to-market strategy to include the fast-paced growing ecosystem of hyperscale cloud providers.

I was also responsible for all aspects of how the company interacts with current customers and prospects. So we looked to leverage Cologix’s unique domain expertise, from large-scale cloud deployments to a deep understanding of the pressures facing today’s CIOs, to establish deeper relationships with customers at every engagement point, from initial acquisition and sales through customer relationship management and client services. So the end-to-end customer experience. 

Francesca Michel: Following up on that, what does the role look like today? What are you focused on in the future, especially when you think about Scalelogix and the Scalelogix strategy moving forward?

Laura Ortman: My top priority when I started in the role was to hire and build my team around a culture of collaboration. So I brought in some strong leaders who have deep industry subject-matter expertise, the technical knowledge, and the customer experience and sales focus that we needed.

I’ve been able to expand my role and take on further responsibility. My role as president and CRO has evolved to not only go to market and customer experience but also to drive product and technology strategy and the road map to develop our cybersecurity and IT strategy and execute upon that and to enhance our go-to-market strategy. Over the past several years, we’ve really increased our awareness in the industry.

Additionally, we’ve put a lot of emphasis on leading our ESG efforts. You talked about Scalelogix, moving into the hyperscale edge data center, as part of our strategy. It was really focused on the product, the go to market, and brand awareness.

Francesca Michel: Any surprises when you first took on the role and some things you hadn’t known to prepare for, or skill sets or experiences from your previous roles that helped you to succeed? 

Laura Ortman: I had worked with Cologix’s CEO, Bill Fathers, at VMware, and we had a very strong relationship. When he hired me at Cologix, he gave me a great overview of the company and the strategy, the opportunities, and the challenges ahead. There wasn’t anything specific that I had known to prepare for, but my previous experience in running a P&L; understanding go to market; global strategy around sales, marketing, and product; my background with IT, technology, and software development; and helping companies transform the end-to-end customer experience all contributed to my being ready for this role.

Francesca Michel: Your role today requires business partnerships and strong collaboration with a broad set of stakeholders. Who do you collaborate with the most day to day?

Laura Ortman: I always tell people it is all around relationships and connections. I collaborate with everyone across the organization, but I would say I collaborate most with our president and COO and our CFO, but I also certainly work closely with our chief strategy officer, our CMO, our chief development officer, head of legal, HR, and of course our CEO and board members. Externally, I collaborate with our partners and customers as well as industry leaders. So for me, it’s all around the collaborations with all aspects of the business. 

Francesca Michel: The one thing I know about you is you’ve been known for driving high-performing teams in what is described as a “together we win” culture. That’s how you lead. So how do you apply that to deliver a best-in-class experience for customers?

Laura Ortman: For me, it’s about practicing open communication and being an active listener, whether you’re talking to a customer, a partner, or an employee. Really fostering that shared purpose and goals.

I always talk about seeking to understand. So if you hear something, whether it’s in the marketplace or in customer or employee feedback, let’s seek to understand first and then see how we can address whatever concerns or opportunities there are.

Around our values, it’s about encouraging trust and transparency. TRUST is the foundation of our Cologix values, and the second T stands for “together we win.” Everyone has a key role in the success of this team and the organization. I always say we win as a team, and we learn as a team. Everyone is a part of it. 

Francesca Michel: You’ve spent the greater part of your career in the technology industry. What’s your leadership philosophy to lead and manage in such a fast-paced and constantly evolving industry? 

Laura Ortman: I have the opportunity to mentor and coach graduates who are coming into the workplace. And some of the questions they ask me about technology are, “Should I get into technology sales? Should I get into technology development?” Technology is one of the fastest-growing industries, and it’s not constant. You learn every day through innovation, rapid technology, and evolution.

So, my philosophy is you listen, you learn, and you lead—in that order. You come into an organization, and you listen first. You learn as you listen, and then you lead and you do what you say. You seek opportunities when faced with challenges. Nothing is ever easy. That’s why we’re all here. And you always find a way. It may not be the easiest path, but there is a path to success. 
Francesca Michel: You now have experience both as an executive and as a board member. So how would you say your board role and your executive role are helping each other? 

Laura Ortman: They absolutely have helped each other, and I would say my board journey was a very interesting one, which could be another conversation. I’ve learned a lot. And I’ve spoken to other women executives who have gone through similar journeys, trying to find the right board role that is the right fit and where you can really make an impact.

So, it’s great to see the perspective from both roles. When you have the experience as an executive, where you have had the opportunity to present to different types of company boards, whether it’s a public or a private board, you appreciate it more as a board member. You have been in their shoes, and as a board member, you take your prior experiences and provide insights on what’s worked in the past and your learnings through some of the challenges that the company may be facing.

So, it definitely has given me great perspective, and I feel like it’s definitely helped both roles. 

Francesca Michel: Looking ahead, which specific leadership skill sets and capabilities will be most important for you in your leadership roles, both executive and board?

Laura Ortman: Certainly I’ve evolved as a leader in my career, but I’ve had some core values and skill sets that I’ve always focused on and learned throughout my career. Integrity is the first one. And clear communications, both on the strategy side and how you execute upon that strategy. Lead by example. And have empathy—really get to know your employees and have empathy for what they’re going through.

Culture, where you foster a sense of belonging and you empower. And you provide that level of transparency. And I talked about teaching and mentorship. Where I am in my career, I love to give back, and I love to be able to mentor others.

And I would say a few other things would be the ability to make difficult decisions and have crucial conversations. In the business world, nothing is ever easy. And so you want to have those crucial conversations.

One day I hope to write a book about building connections and relationships. It is all around the people you meet in your career—whether you’re working with them, whether you’re at a conference, whether you’re in an elevator—everywhere you can meet somebody. Everyone has a story, and everyone has something that you can learn from. So I’m always taking an opportunity to meet as many people as I can and to learn from them. 

Francesca Michel: You mentioned before we kicked off this podcast that there’s some back-to-office motion at Cologix. How is that energy? How does getting back into the office feel for the company? 

Laura Ortman: It’s been pretty incredible. We moved into a new office in downtown Denver, and we’re right next to Coors Field in McGregor Square, and we did our soft launch two weeks ago. So we’ve had employees slowly coming back into the office.

We did a QBR [quarterly business review] in the office this weekend, and it was high energy. Everyone was so happy to see each other. And even if people are in the office only one or two days a week, that’s OK. People want to make those connections again, but they also want to have the flexibility. So we’re doing a hybrid workplace where people can continue to have that flexibility and do great work.

Francesca Michel: Laura, thank you for taking the time to speak with us today.

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