Telco's Sights Set on Data Centers

CFO Gary Wojtaszek leads Cincinnati Bell’s expansion into the promising industry of colocation.

As a New Jersey native, Gary Wojtaszek may have had some misconceptions about the sleepy Midwest. But as the CFO of Cincinnati Bell, Wojtaszek is in the vanguard of change, leading the almost 140-year-old local phone company in its bid to become a global data center colocation provider for Fortune 1000 customers.

“It’s a unique opportunity to join a company that some would believe had seen its best days, and to come in and set a new strategic direction and take it to a different spot,” Wojtaszek says. “It’s been a fun couple of years here.”

So far, so good. Cincinnati Bell reported $1.4 billion in revenue last year and it showed strong growth in sales from data center colocation, which totaled $125 million, a 75% increase from 2009. In colocation, a company provides customers with space, power, protection and services, while they bring in their servers and other equipment.

It’s a bold move for a landlocked telco to attempt to span the globe with a new business. But Wojtaszek is comfortable with international assignments, given that he spent several years living in France and Belgium when he worked for General Motors. He worked for Agere Systems, and before joining Cincinnati Bell in 2008 he was chief accounting officer at Laureate Education in Baltimore.

Wojtaszek was hired with the specific task of taking the company in a new direction, one that would provide more opportunities for growth than the stagnant wireline and wireless businesses. Now Cincinnati Bell uses the cash from its traditional businesses to support the focus on data centers.

Wojtaszek didn't have previous experience with data centers. But when he began to look at Cincinnati Bell's strengths and lines of business, "I realized that data centers offered the most compelling opportunity to transform the company," he says.

“I developed the strategy, explained it to the management team and the board, and sold them on the opportunity that we could do something very unique,” Wojtaszek says. “The data center industry is pretty much in its nascency. It’s one of those rare opportunities in life where you can have a fun time building a business, but also help define an industry.”

One key aspect of the industry is intense competition. Burgeoning interest among Cincinnati Bell’s competitors has spurred them to buy capacity too. However, Cincinnati Bell already has its June 2010 acquisition of CyrusOne under its belt, and ready for more acquisitions, thanks to Wojtaszek’s refinancing the company’s debt. The $526 million purchase of CyrusOne and its Texas operations brought Cincinnati Bell’s total number of facilities to 17. In the first quarter of this year, Cincinnati Bell contracted for its first space in London, a beachhead for a European expansion.

As for Cincinnati and its environs, they have enchanted his family, says Wojtaszek, and led to trying new things, like clay pigeon shooting, a favorite of Cincinnati Bell CEO Jack Cassidy. It’s “like golf with a gun,” Wojtaszek says.

 

See Treasury & Risk’s complete 2011 list of the 100 Most Influential People in Finance here.

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