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Brian Lillie, Chief Customer Officer and Executive Vice President of Technology Services at Equinix

By Peter High, published on Forbes

06/28/17

Brian Lillie set his sights on the becoming a chief information officer early in his career, and he carefully planned the moves necessary to get there. He determined he would lead each of the functions that make up a traditional IT department. Through his beginnings in technology at the Air Force, to time spent at Silicon Graphics, and then at Verisign, he gathered the necessary experiences. Then he took a left turn and spent a year getting a master’s degree in Management from Stanford Graduate School of Business. When he came back to Verisign, it was as Vice President of Global Sales Operations. Through this experience, he gained invaluable customer-centric experience and insights.

When Lillie joined Equinix in 2008, he finally realized his dream, becoming CIO, but he made this role a much more customer-centric one than is typical. As a $3.6 billion leader in the global colocation datacenter space, the company’s customers are often CIOs and their IT teams. As such, he was able to serve as a empathetic peer to his company’s customers, while also making the case for the use of Equinix’s offering. He also established an Equinix-on-Equinix program, ensuring that his team was the first and best customer of the company, making his team’s insights sharper when working with customers.

In September 2016, Lillie was promoted to chief customer officer and executive vice president of Technology Services. In that role, he leads the Global Customer Success Organization, which includes Global Customer Care, Global Customer Experience, Global Customer Process, and Global Technology Services, including IT and Interconnection Product Engineering. In many ways, this role was simply a continuation of what he had already been doing.

Now he has a CIO reporting to him, and as such he has had a chance to reflect further on the nature of the role and what separates those who succeed in it versus those who do not. He has defined “Four Pillars of Excellence,” which he believes to be the four cornerstones for building a career as a CIO. He believes CIOs must be operational, transformational, innovational, and organizational. He covers all of the above and more in depth in this interview, and more.

Peter High: Brian, you are the Chief Customer Officer and Executive Vice President of Technology Services at Equinix. Your current role is interesting, as is the path that led you to it. Can you share a few highlights from the journey you took, how you managed your career, and the goals that led you to where you are today?

Brian Lillie:I started my career in the Air Force. I was an officer for almost a decade. My last two jobs in the Air Force, as a commander of a communications squadron and as a captain in a mission control center operating satellites, prepared me well for IT. My first civilian job was as the network manager at Silicon Graphics (SGI). In this position, I gained both communications infrastructure and international experience because after a while with the company I moved to Switzerland and ran IT infrastructure for Europe for two years. At this point in my career, a mentor told me that a strong CIO should have experience in every box on the org chart. I have used this advice to guide my career.

When I came back to the U.S. with SGI, I transitioned into apps. When I joined Verisign as VP of IT, I picked up apps and infrastructure, and worked on integrating acquisitions. During this time, I thought I wanted to become a CEO, so I took a year off and attended the Stanford Graduate School of Business where I earned a master’s degree in management. After I earned my degree and came back to Verisign, I knew that I wanted to get in on the business side. The CEO was reorganizing the company and asked me to organize the sales force, along with a colleague. Ultimately, this led to me running Global Sales Operations.

When I knew it was time for a change, I took six months off, drove around the country with my family, and ultimately landed at Equinix as CIO. They were rapidly growing and needed a CIO to scale the company’s systems with the business. Equinix is a phenomenally good place to work.I want it to be my last place. Once I got the CIO role under control and had a solid team, I started adding to my remit. I picked up product engineering, that is the technology part of my job. Last fall, I took on the chief customer role to get in front of and roll up our new Global Customer Organization.

High: You started on a standard CIO path, which is to say you sat in all the different chairs in IT, presumably on the past to becoming a CIO. Instead, you rounded out your experience in a way that few CIOs have by pursuing a graduate degree to increase your business acumen, as well as by spending a period in Sales, which gave you deeper customer-centric experience. How did those experiences color your thinking about what could be achieved in the role of CIO?

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