Guy Willner, Co-Founder and CEO of IXAfrica
Co-Founder and CEO of IXAfrica
Guy Willner has worked in the data centre industry since 1999, namely and most recently at IXAfrica. Started with his co-founders five years ago with the hunger to build a startup, he brings a wealth of experience to IXAfrica.
His entry into the data centre industry started with his Engineering degree at Oxford Polytechnic — now Oxford Brookes University — where he specialised in electrical engineering and electronics & computing, and wrote assembly language. After graduating he took a job with Phillips working in assembly language programming, before rising through the company and moving back to the UK to work in telecoms with Vivendi.
“And at that point I spent five years in business to business telecoms and learning the ropes of how that worked. And at the end of that period, I decided to set my own business up,” he shares.
Founding IXEurope in 1998, Willner built the company from the ground up, turning it into a company that made eight acquisitions and floated on the LSE, before being sold to Equinix in 2007 for US$555m.
He also more recently founded IXcellerate, a leading operator of commercial data centres in Russia.
Among his other accolades and experience is being the President of Equinix Europe, a six-year stint as Non-Executive Director of South African headquartered Teraco Data Environments, eight years in the same position at technology leader Numecent before moving on to Swedish internet infrastructure giant Flexenclosure AB and Digital Realty Company Lamda Hellix. He currently holds positions at Brazilian edge data centre ecosystem Elea Digital, International Data Centre Group, IX Acquisition Corp and Helios Investment Partners.
“There's a few of us in the industry who are quite tenacious and who've been through all sorts of problems,” he says, looking back on his vast and varied career. “About 75% of our competition went bankrupt after the dot-com bubble went. People were writing off half a billion pounds left, right, and centre on investments they've made which didn't work out.”
And despite that being a tough time for Willner and the wider industry, he attests it made him stronger. “We survived that and learned how to run a business on a shoestring to survive. That taught me a lot of lessons. When I see a crisis, it doesn't really bother me anymore.”
The resilience built up in trying times for the wider technology industry has seen Willner maintain the course in what is an ever-evolving sector and ensure the right people head up data centre enterprises to propel them into the future.
“It’s about building the team that's there,” he explains. “Can you find the right CEO? Can you find the right sales team? Can you motivate them? Can you be patient when you need to be patient? Can you find the right operations people? I think the biggest challenge is human. That's what you spend most of your time on, talking to people and trying to work out ways forward. The rest follows.”
For that reason, Willner says his love is working with startups, although acknowledges the role his involvement with large corporations has played in equipping him to do so.
“I love startups. There's no room for tourists on the ship. In a startup, you're either doing something or you're not there anymore. It doesn't say that startup people are better than big company people. It's just they're different and it's a different beast. That's also one thing that's struck me a lot in terms of advice - find a passion. I love data centres, it’s a great business, but my passion is business building. It doesn't matter where you come from or what background or education you have. It is how much you believe in what you do and get on with it.”
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