“Freedom still exists”… Revera CEO praises Telecom acquisition

Telecom’s acquisition of Revera saw ‘business as usual’ for the cloud services company.

Chief executive Robin Cockayne sits down with Heather Wright to talk about the acquisition, standing in rivers and dinner in the Cockayne household.

“Last year was a milestone from an acquisition point of view but not from a Revera business point of view,” says Robin Cockayne.

Revera’s chief executive is, of course, referring to Telecom’s April 2013 acquisition of the Wellington-based cloud services company – previously referred to as a data centre company, but more on that later – for $96.5 million.

Speaking just days before Telecom’s public announcement of its $17 million purchase of cloud services specialist Appserv, Cockayne says despite being part of a much larger whole, Revera still maintains its own culture and style and little has changed under Telecom.

Apart from board meetings being with Telecom executives and, one suspects, the financial aspects of being backed by New Zealand’s largest telecommunications company.

“It’s just business as usual. “The first sigh of relief [for Revera staff on the announcement of the purchase] was that it wasn’t a multinational buying us, it wasn’t a foreign buyer.

“Then they questioned what Telecom would do to us, why they bought us, what was their intention? And the answer was because they didn’t have cloud and we did and they wanted to leave us alone to get on with business. That was the second sigh of relief,” Cockayne says.

“The freedom still exists to be as controversial and aggressive as we need to be to succeed – which sometimes surprises our new parent, but they’re getting used to it,” he says, grinning.

“They allow us the room to grow. The same executive team remains. My board meetings have been replaced with board meetings with Telecom executives and slightly different conversations as we try to educate each other.

“They would argue that education is going one way, we would argue it’s going the other!,” he laughs.

“We have defended our boundaries with some degree of trepidation, but found out that we don’t actually have to do that much defending of the boundaries. They want us as they bought us.

“Tim Miles [Gen-i chief executive] always said he was not putting a $96 million bet on the table to play around with it.”

A few months after the acquisition, Revera held its company conference, with 100% turnout. “The acquisition was over, the cards were dealt, and it was a bit of an articifical watershed, and life went on. We just got on with doing what we do. There was no ‘big brother’ happening.”

From introvert to leader…

Perched on a high backed couch in a lounge in Telecom House in Auckland, his phone muted and casually abandoned alongside him, Cockayne is world’s away from the image he paints of himself as a child – the introverted ‘odd boy in the corner who never said a word’.

His family imigrated to New Zealand from the UK when Cockayne was 14. “My early New Zealand experience was almost a Diary of a Whimpy Kid,” he says. “I was half the size and half as hairy as other kids, and I was moved up a few levels at school.”

Having watched his father, Roger, working in technology as country manager for Hitachi Data Systems, Cockayne ‘had no intention of going into IT’.

Instead, he envisaged a career standing in rivers, measuring water volume and velocity, and studied earth sciences at university. He quickly realised there weren’t many jobs in that particular field, so he took a role with ‘a small company doing support stuff back in the days when modems made noises’.

Jobs with Fisher & Paykel, a payroll software company and Unisys followed. He says while Unisys gave him a good window into how multinational’s operate, it also changed his personality in ways he didn’t like.

The lack of freedom became suffocating, and Cockayne headed to the family business – then known as Hosting and Data Centre Services – working his way up through the ranks: product manager, marketing manager, sales manager, national sales manager, and then into the executive team.

The company had been created in 2002 after a management buyout by Roger Cockayne and Wayne Norrie, taking a 51% stake in Hitachi Data Systems (Hitachi sold it’s remaining stake in the company in 2005, the year the company officially became Revera).

Cockayne wasn’t just working with his dad in the early days, with his two brothers also part of the company.

“Work was never far from the dinner table, it was just the DNA of the family. Every conversation went back to to the office.

“Because the company was built ‘on Dad’s principals of lead, follow or get out of the way, and do it right so you only have to do it once’ – principals that already resonated with him – Cockayne says it was ‘easy’ to settle in with the company and build on that foundation.

Growth business Revera opened a data centre every two years from 2003, Cockayne says. “We were the only company doing it. Then it became fashionable five or six years ago.”

Today, the company dubs itself a ‘high intensity cloud services company’ and Cockayne is dismissive of building new data centres.

“That’s done. Data centre capability is built for New Zealand. We don’t need to build anymore. Hardware itself is getting smaller density and more powerful, it can run in ambient temperatures, there is offshore capacity available…”

Instead, the company is transacting cloud infrastructure and cloud services. It is, he says, a paradigm shift.

“Now it’s about developing services to function on top of the capacity and that gets richer each year and delivers more value to the client. Critical mass won’t be our play. He’s equally adamant that cloud is not about cost savings.

“It’s about new opportunities to grow business. A symptom of it is efficiency, but the power is in what it opens up for the ordinary business.”

Despite having three children under the age of seven – ‘it’s my home hobby’ he quips – Cockayne admits work is ever present. “Work very rarely leaves my mind. Even if I’m gardening, I’m thinking about work.”

It is, he says, part of the Cockayne DNA, but his wife keeps him in check. “My wife keeps me balanced. I’m very lucky to have a partner I can lean on like that, because I’m hopeless with balance, but I have a very honest relationship with my wife and she keeps me in check on that front.”

As to the future, Cockayne says frustration fuels him.

“And there are ample fuel tanks of frustration [in technology] to keep me going. “IT as a whole, generally can be done better and that helps fuel the frustration,” he adds.

And it’s that frustration that will no doubt keep driving Cockayne and Revera onwards.

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