• Portman Partners

What Makes a Good Company Great


There’s only one answer. People. Of course you need a product, a purpose etc. But it all starts with people. Leaders. Who bring ideas, build culture, and have faith in their beliefs. But finding the “right” leaders who fit is still cited by major organisations today as one of their biggest problems. With the thousands of books written on the “secrets” of leadership, the corporate leadership programs, the vast array of intuitive assessments available etc., how is this possible? Is it because our success models are based on world that was, rather than a world that will be? Leadership in this 21st century global, transparent and digitized world requires leaders who can see the future, embrace diversity and who dare to be different. And remember – their CV will only tell you what they have done – not what they are capable of doing.

So what does a great company in the Digital Infrastructure sector of today look like? What are the top positions and what are the qualities that we need to find in our leaders in order to deliver success and produce great returns for investors and stakeholders?

The Chief Executive Officer

The top job. And the most important. Get this wrong and you’re doomed. The CEO should have the backing of the investors and delegated authority to run the company. The investors don’t run the company, the CEO does. Appoint a non-exec chairperson to represent the interests of the investors. And add other non-exec directors to support and advise the CEO.

So what are the top eight qualities that a CEO should have?

  1. Immediate impact. What’s your gut feeling when you met this person for the first time? The way they looked, acted, spoke, and, importantly, listened. Were you impressed? As the saying goes, you only get one chance to make a first impression. What was your first impression?

  2. Humility. A number of research studies have concluded that humble leaders listen more effectively, inspire great teamwork and focus everyone (including themselves) on organizational goals better than leaders have large egos and inhabit ivory towers. A CEO who does not spend time on the “shop floor” talking to employees doesn’t really know what’s going on in his organisation.

  3. Energy. And a bit of luck. Your CEO will need both. The harder they work the luckier they’ll get. There is no substitute for hard work, dedication, and perseverance. A work/life balance is important, but work/life integration is better.

  4. Decisiveness. A bad decision is usually better than no decision at all. A great CEO won’t wait until he or she is 100% sure. They will check the facts and consult others, but make their decision quickly and decisively. Prevarication and stalling in the face of difficult decisions isn’t good leadership. And there isn’t a CEO alive who’s never made a bad decision. When you’re interviewing prospective CEO’s dig deep into this.

  5. Curiosity. A voracious appetite for learning. A great CEO won’t know all the answers but will have the confidence and humility to ask questions that will enable him or her to bridge any gaps between what they currently know and what they need to know to be effective.

  6. The courage to be different. A great CEO will avoid red oceans and focus on innovation in unchartered waters, creating uncontested market space. Digital Acceleration is creating more opportunities than ever in this COVID world. Being a CEO is a tough job. And there will always be those who question their decisions. But in the competitive new world of Digital Infrastructure innovation is paramount. And good ideas won’t only come from the CEO alone. He or she will need to embrace diversity. Building an innovation factory from people from different ages, gender, ethnicity, religion, disability, sexual orientation & education.

  7. Ideas and Intellect. You don’t need another Einstein. Just someone with a great ability to understand complexity or deal with ideas and information

  8. Followership. The CEO should be able to compellingly communicate a vision to inspire, motivate and lead others to contribute to its success. Great CEO’s are admired and respected by their people who are inspired to follow their example. They are followed by people who want to follow, not because they have to.

The Chief Financial Officer

The investors favourite. And strategic business partner to, and controlling influence on, the risk-taking CEO. Starting at the bottom of the flagpole where the CEO may start at the top. The CFO is held to a higher standard than anyone in the company – even more than the CEO. It is a privileged position given the ability to have a powerful impact on the direction of the business, but it is increasingly challenging given the increasing remit of the role & CFOs being pulled in so many different directions.

So what are the main qualities we seek in a CFO in Digital Infrastructure?

  1. Integrity. To the outside world, CFOs have long been regarded as the financial gatekeepers of the corporation, the guardian of shareholder value.

  2. Qualifications. In large organisations the CFO needn’t be a qualified accountant as there would be typically be a large finance team with plenty of these around. In the DI space there are relatively few firms with very large finance teams where this is the case. Typically the CFO would therefore require a recognized finance qualification. An MBA would be a distinct advantage.

  3. Creativity. There is always a balance short-term profits and long-term growth. And, it to drive the company's growth—which is, after all, the goal. Plus, as digital transformation accelerates, the modern chief financial officer needs to understand how to get the maximum from shareholders investment and respond and adapt quickly to disruption.

  4. M&A. Digital Infrastructure is global. Investors are looking for growth. The fast pace of digital acceleration means that organic growth is unacceptable. Mergers and acquisitions are the chosen route today. Experience in this field is vital whether you are the acquirer or the acquired.


The Chief Operating Officer

Users of the internet & supporting digital infrastructure expect information immediately. Twenty-four hours each day, three hundred & sixty-five days a year. Downtime is costly & cannot be tolerated. The COO’s job is to make that everything works. And continues to work. A great COO should have:

  1. People Skills . COO’s have to be able to connect with people. Their job is to build systems and create ways to operate more efficiently. If they cannot connect with the people whom these systems affect, the chances of success are very slim.

  2. Customer-Centric Approach. The customer is king. Innovative and unique Service Level Agreements will differentiate the company and help to secure new business. Repeat business will depend on firms ability to meet or exceed customer expectations.

  3. Passion for sustainability. There’s enormous pressure on datacenter operators to reduce carbon emissions, so the COO will need to be passionate about sustainability. When hiring, seek examples from the candidate of how he or she has helped to reduce their carbon footprint

  4. DCIM. A complete understanding of datacenter managements systems. How they work and how they can contribute to availability, reduced operating costs and carbon reduction.

  5. Continuous Improvement. The great COO will improve everything he or she touches. Identifying waste or unnecessary work will free up resources. Ask for examples.

  6. Experience of Growing A Business. The rate of digital acceleration in the sector and requirements for growth mean that the COO will have to had experience of growing a business. International experience should be compulsory.

  7. Tenacity. A thick skin is obligatory. The COO never rests. Things will go wrong. It’s the speed and ability to recover that are key attributes. Even if things seem to be running smoothly then the COO will be like a Grand Master in chess – looking three, four, five moves ahead in what-if scenarios.

  8. Finance. Ability to develop and manage operating budgets

The Chief Digital Infrastructure Officer.

A new position we foresee. Successful companies will be those with the best digital infrastructure and we predict a new role emerging which combines the roles of the Chief Data Officer, the Chief Information Officer, the Chief Technology Officer & elevates this new integrated position to a seat at board level. Currently the CDO is the senior executive responsible for the utilization & governance of data across the organization, the CIO is responsible for how how the organization uses its technology, speed, and customer service to rivals, and the CTO responsible for the design and construction of the datacenter & connectivity. The CDIO will need to have:

  1. Expert Knowledge of datacenters. How they work, are built, and operate. From a blank sheet of paper to full operation and position within a global network.

  2. Network Topology. The design and arrangement of the physical and logical elements of your communication network.

  3. Passion for sustainability. Designing for zero carbon emissions

  4. Finance. Developing and presenting capex proposals with ROI predictions.

  5. Business knowledge. A thorough understanding of the business. MBO preferred

Chief Commercial Officer

All roads lead here. Without customers all other roles are of no use. The CCO is the company’s single point of contact on the commercial side who can manage innovation, solutions development, marketing, and sales. A great CCO need to have:

  1. Immediate Impact. Like the CEO the CCO needs to impress from the first moment you meet him or her. Great sales leaders have a natural instinct to sell and they will be selling themselves to you from the moment you meet.

  2. Sales DNA. From the first point of contact a great sales leader will continue selling and will be fixated on targets and deadlines. They have the natural disposition to fixate their team on achieving their revenue goals at the exclusion of all else. They block out distractions and compartmentalize negative news that might sidetrack their team or cause their department to flounder. They keep their team focused and moving forward with a sense of urgency, regardless of the circumstances.

  3. Perseverance and Immunity to Rejection. Sensitivity is not a quality generally associated with sales leaders. A great sales leader won’t take “no” as an answer and will persevere to the point where it is absolutely clear that the customer is not buying.

  4. Team building. The ability to hire quality talent will determine the success or failure of the sales organization managers thought so. High-performing sales managers focus on hiring salespeople who are skilful builders of relationships, are persuasive, and have a reservoir of experience they use to control sales cycles.

  5. Coaching ability. Great sales leaders understand that there is a diversity of selling styles by which salespeople can achieve success. Important therefore to adapt their style to suit each individual.

  6. Strategic leadership. In the competitive world of digital infrastructure the CCO must devise the organization’s sales strategy to defeat the competition. Providing offers that competitors will find difficult to replicate. A combination of products and services that are devised for individual clients that focus on solutions to problems rather than simply selling features and benefits. Making the competition irrelevant.

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