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Exclusive: Q&A with Erich Sanchack, Salute Mission Critical’s New CEO

It was announced this week that Sanchack, former COO of Digital Realty, has taken the helm at data center services provider Salute. The company is known for its outreach to members of the military community.

Today, Salute Mission Critical, purportedly the largest global full lifecycle data center services provider, has announced that Erich Sanchack has become the company’s newest CEO. Sanchack will succeed Jason Okroy, one of Salute’s co-founders, who will transition to a chief customer and strategy officer role.

Salute Mission Critical is known for its outreach to members of the military community and their spouses who seek to make a transition into the tech industry. It offers training and professional development opportunities to veterans and their families looking to work in data centers, providing over 300 client sites across the globe with the talent and support they’ll need to achieve their goals.

As such, Sanchack is uniquely qualified for his position as Salute’s CEO, given his extensive history in both the military and digital infrastructure. As a former officer in the Marines, as well as the former COO of Digital Realty, Sanchack has a personal connection to these veterans who want to make a similar career pivot. "Erich’s experience, skills and knowledge are recognized globally for scaling organizations," said Lee Kirby, Salute Mission Critical Chairman and co-founder. "[He] is the right servant leader to elevate our company into the future."

Data Center Knowledge spoke with Sanchack prior to the announcement to learn more about his own experiences transitioning into the tech industry, how his military background influenced his decision to accept his new role as Salute’s CEO, and the unique skills and experiences that members of the military community can offer data centers and the industry as a whole. We also got Sanchack’s take on the biggest challenges facing the data center industry and what trends and technologies he’s most excited about.

Data Center Knowledge: How did your own background in the military play a role in deciding to join Salute as its CEO?

Erich Sanchack: I was an officer in the Marine Corps, deployed overseas, trusted with the lives of many Marines, and went through a bunch of very difficult situations. The leadership experiences that I had—that anyone transitioning out of the military has had—aren’t things that you can get from an MBA course.

When you’re deployed, you gain a newfound appreciation for people across the globe, and you develop strong relationships with people who may have a different belief system than those in North America. So these experiences, coupled with the leadership experiences you gain in the military, provide a strong foundation for success in other industries—you’re doing fast problem-solving on your feet, and you’re focusing not just on effort, but on outcome-based results. And that’s key: in the military, you don’t get an A for effort. You have to bring all of your Marines home safe.

So when Lee [Kirby] came to me with this opportunity, I knew that I was already aligned with Salute’s core values and the culture they’d developed. My military experience, plus the fact that I’d run the data center operations for the world’s largest commercial data center provider from a square footage perspective, made me feel like the stars were aligning for me very, very nicely.

DCK: What kind of training and employment opportunities do you offer to members of the military community, as well as their spouses?

ES: A key part of Salute’s success has been their workforce development program. Salute isn’t only interested in onboarding an individual and putting them in a role, but is instead looking at the full life cycle and development of that individual throughout their career.

Although the data center industry tends to be a bit more flat, a bit more vertical—if you’re a technician, for example, you tend to stay as a technician until you take on more managerial responsibilities within that same space—Salute tends to provide more opportunities for cross-pollination, where people can accomplish a wider spectrum of responsibilities throughout their career, which also lets companies save on coverage and allows employers to easily get the support they need.

Similarly, Salute offers a mix of both traditional training and on-the-job training that looks very similar to how the military trains individuals, of course, but also how medical schools train individuals. Our goal is to get people to an instructor’s level of knowledge. We believe that if you can teach others about whatever it is you’re trained to do, you’ve obviously mastered the material to a certain degree.

DCK: How are members of the military community uniquely qualified to work in tech? What particular skills and experience can they offer?

ES: Beyond the leadership opportunities and experiences that I myself experienced, and that members of the military community tend to experience, which I believe are invaluable, I think that those who grew up within the military tend to have a discipline and attention to detail that are so, so important to have within the tech industry.

When you’re working in digital infrastructure or other tech-related industries, you need to follow your company’s operating procedures, whether they be SOPs or MOPs. And when members of the military community actually leave the military, they’ve been trained so well on following operational procedures that they don’t even realize it’s such a highly valuable, highly transferable skill.

I’d also mention the esprit de corps, the sense of camaraderie and loyalty to the cause that many veterans cultivate throughout their time in the military. When these veterans join tech companies, they immediately have a focus on the mission at hand—whether that’s making sure the customer’s satisfied or otherwise. These veterans can make sure that, whatever the company’s mission will be, that mission will be accomplished.

DCK: What do you think are the particular challenges that members of the military community may face as they start looking for work in the tech industry?

ES: Well, when I first tried to break into the tech industry, I immediately thought to myself, “Are these people even going to want me?” I wasn’t sure if my time in the Marines gave me the skills and experiences that these tech companies needed. But, as we discussed, I was pleasantly surprised at how well my skills transferred over. And part of our mission is to let other former members of the military know that they have the same set of highly transferable skills.

The biggest issue, though, is just understanding the language. We all speak English, of course. But at the end of the day, depending on the industry, whether it’s health or automotive, the way you talk about certain issues, and the language and jargon that you use, is going to be very, very different. Of course, there may be some overlap—maybe, for example, you were working in comms or some other technology for the military, and some of that lingo may cross over to the public domain—it can be intimidating when you don’t quite know the language yet.

But I’m glad to say that these veterans have gotten so good at overcoming these challenges, and people like Lee Kirby have helped steer other veterans through Salute’s transition assistance programs. Overall, Salute has helped veterans to learn so much about their transferable skills, and how to translate them for the tech industry.

DCK: What do you think are the biggest challenges facing the data center industry today?

ES: Even to the casual observer, I think it’s become clear that interest rates are going up, the cost of living is going up, and overall the cost of capital is quite different than it used to be 3-4 years ago. That’s going to impact the economics of how the industry develops.

However, having said that, the industry isn’t going to slow down anytime soon, and the increasing data usage of civil services like social media, Uber, or even AI-related services like ChatGPT, means that the amount of compute and associated data storage requirements are just going to continue to exist at a high volume. I still see tremendous growth for the industry despite the economic headwinds that are coming our way.

The other issue is talent. The amount of people working in the data center space isn’t infinite, and there’s been a sustained trajectory of double-digit growth for the industry, which has tapped out a lot of the traditional resource pools for employees. It isn’t going to be easy for the digital infrastructure space going forward as a result.

That’s what Salute is offering. The talent shortage is a critical concern, but we’re here to provide quality, technically-trained people that offer a wide spectrum of skills. We’re not here to just put a person in a seat; we’re here to address your specific needs as a customer. And if you’re looking to provide service-level support to your customers in creative ways that help reduce your operational expenses, Salute can be very, very helpful in that regard.

DCK: Are there recent data center trends or technologies that have made you excited? Does Salute have any plans to invest or get involved with them?

ES: I think with the current amount of energy that’s being drawn nowadays, and the fact that there’s no longer, I’ll say, an “entitlement” for our industry to have constant power availability, has meant that the industry as a whole has become much more sensitive about sustainability, including sustainable power and sustainable emissions.

That kind of emphasis is going to become very, very important as you look forward, not only in terms of how you accomplish your mission, but also in terms of maintaining your equipment and improving your power usage effectiveness (or PUE). So there’s tremendous opportunities in the sustainability arena, and I think you’re starting to see global recognition that sustainability is going to be addressed. And I think Salute will be on the cutting edge of participating in and supporting sustainability.

AI has also been top of mind for me. I can remember when I was building data centers for the intelligence community 15-20 years ago. You’d have to do manual checks of the temperature, air flow, etc., and then, based on the data, you’d have to manually change things like fan speeds or temperature controls or whatever. But now automation tackles most of that. And improvements with AI means there’ll be improvements in how digital infrastructure operates, which means that people’s roles and responsibilities will change as a result.

DCK: Salute recently celebrated its 10-year anniversary. What do the next 10 years look like for Salute?

ES: The industry’s going to continue to grow at a pretty good pace. Despite inflation, despite recession rumors, I think the industry itself has enough momentum that it’s going to keep companies like Salute on their toes. We can’t rely on a steady stream of talent, and we’ll have to continue to be aggressive on how to bring veterans into the fold and how to successfully transition them into the industry without looting the culture of Salute itself.

For Salute, over the next ten years, we want to continue to grow relationships with some of the key players in the marketplace. We’ve been responsive to the growth of this industry, and now we want to be strategic, not only in terms of how we address the current mission needs within a data center, but also to help companies achieve their future ambitions with the necessary talent that Salute can provide.

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