Casual observers marvel at how this company not only survives but thrives even though it shares the same challenges as "Dunder Mifflin Paper Company" on The Office - a core business built around a mundane, semi-obsolete medium, paper (similarly semi-obsolete medium, magnetic tape) in a hip digital age.
At the breakfast gathering in HBS's sparkling and sun-drenched Spangler Center, sponsored by the HBS Association of Boston, Iron Mountain materials summarized the firm's fortunes: "In 1998 Iron Mountain was a $400m physical box and tape storage company with operations entirely within the United States. Today, they have $3b revenues, operate in 38 countries on five continents, and have completed more than 250 acquisitions." Make that 300 acquisitions, according to numbers Brennan quoted this morning. Things have been picking up in 2009, it seems.
His vision for the future and ambition is similarly galactic: "Adding technology services that increasingly bring us into competition with IBM, EMC and Microsoft." We asked Brennan to throw a spear to pinpoint his definition of "technology services." Iron Mountain's growth has largely been fueled by its Document Management Services (DMS) division, which pretty much means image storage. A huge area with room for growth, but storing images of printed paper is a different goldfish pond than the growing online, real-time digital data backup and storage business. For financial services, their largest client sector accounting for 20% of Iron Mountain's business, data storage and backup means transaction records in database form. It also means, if not real-time backup, then at least daily database synchronization in a batch backup, transmission and storage cycle (e.g. for via EMC's SRDF technology).
"IBM," said Brennan, meaning clients seeking that service should address themselves to Big Blue. "We have no clue about online data storage." Good to be clear about core vision. With an image behind him of a goldfish in a small bowl and another goldfish leaping into a larger bowl set before a vast ocean, Brennan made the point that Iron Mountain's unarguable success in this economic holocaust is due to leaping into bigger ponds like DMC, but not drowning in the ocean of online and real-time data backup and recovery. Iron Mountain sees its present and future in "inactive data" rather than online, real-time transaction-based data, according to Brennan. "Let us eliminate your noise," he says, summing up the approach.
Brennan also seeks to make Iron Mountain the leading provider of digital computing, now known as cloudshare. "In the old days, we called it timeshare," jokes Brennan. He compared his firm's market share in this arena to that of salesforce.com, another recent juggernaut.
His biography outlines a path to the executive suite reminiscent of Craig McCaw, who cobbled together the stupendous McCaw cellular empire in the 1990s. According to the company's website, Brennan joined Iron Mountain through the acquisition of Connected Corporation, where he served as chief executive officer. Before Connected, he was a general manager for network and service management with the highly successful and flamboyant Cisco Systems, Inc., a global leader and the "junkyard dog" of the networking and communications equipment business. Also, he was the CEO of American Internet prior to its acquisition by Cisco.
"We are not a software company, we're not a real estate company, and we're not a transportation company. Although, we maintain a fleet of 5,000 trucks making 75,000 stops," summarized Brennan.
Iron Mountain faces challenges as it continues to reinvent itself and move into cloudshare and other digital arenas. Brennan distinguishes himself from his counterpart on The Office, Michael Scott (notorious anti-manager), by squarely facing the transformation required of Iron Mountain's 21,000 employees around the globe. Brennan clearly takes pride that his firm has managers who have worked themselves up from the warehouse to running multimillion dollar business lines, but acknowledges it is largely a blue collar workforce. With this in mind, he brought together 200 company leaders from around the world to focus on the company's strategy. At this gathering, Brennan articulated his management philosophy: "Lead with kindness - We have to pull, not push, people. And develop people." This philosophy is creating discomfort for some of his managers, and "it's creating a lot of discomfort for me, too," joked Brennan. "I've been getting a lot of feedback since I put this out there a few weeks ago."
You can read Sarah Cortes' other Tech columns at Inman Technology IT
Photo One by Dic Academic RU of Gold Fish
Photo Two by Iron Mountain of Bob Brennan, CEO
Photo Three by Wikimedia of Craig McCaw, Founder of McCaw Cellular and Clearwire Corporation
Photo Four by Amaloney at The Times Picagune of Bob Brennan, CEO