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Data Centre Titans: Marc Garner’s Journey From Toy Sales to Powering Data Centres at Schneider Electric

Thu 14 Mar 2024

In the ninth edition of Data Centre Titans, we hear from Marc Garner, Senior Vice President of the Secure Power Division at Schneider Electric Europe.

He shared his unique path from a background in toy sales and estate agency finance to spearheading strategies in the data centre sector.

Marc discusses sustainability in the industry and tackling the talent shortage.

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A Serendipitous Transition

Marc Garner’s entry into work was worlds away from the high-tech landscape of data centres and secure power solutions he navigates today at Schneider Electric.

“I started my career selling toys. And then I moved into mortgages and finance sales. I set up a business, doing finance for an estate agency,” said Marc.

This eclectic mix of experiences laid the groundwork for Garner’s versatile skill set, highlighting a willingness to explore and adapt which would later become invaluable in the data centre industry.

The turning point came at the age of 27 when Marc recognised a need for greater fulfillment and professional growth. He decided to pivot his career trajectory dramatically. Marc embarked on a graduate program with Schneider Electric, a move that came later in life compared to traditional graduates.

This decision marked the beginning of what would become an 18-year (and counting) tenure with the company.

Starting in the power distribution side of the business, Garner cut his teeth working with electrical distributors, contractors, and design consultants in the northwest of England. This role provided him with a solid foundation in the electrical aspects of building infrastructure, an area that would prove to be closely related to his future work in data centres.

Driven by a desire to merge his foundational knowledge with his academic background in marketing, Garner transitioned into a segment marketing role within Schneider Electric. It was here that he began to shape the company’s strategy for various industry segments, including data centres.

This role allowed him to indulge his strategic inclinations but also ignited his interest in team management and leadership.

“That’s what really got me into wanting to manage teams and leadership,” said Marc.

Embracing the Data Centre Industry

Marc Garner’s move into Schneider Electric’s Secure Power Division marked a significant pivot towards a sector that stands at the forefront of technological innovation and infrastructure development.

Marc transitioned from a marketing role, where he dabbled in various industry segments, into a position that plunged him into the core of the data centre indsutry.

This leap was a step into an entirely different market and technological realm.

As the Senior Vice President of the Secure Power Division in Europe, Garner’s responsibilities encompass overseeing the technological solutions that power data centres.

Secure Power, a crucial aspect of Schneider Electric’s portfolio, includes technology critical for data centre operations such as Uninterruptible Power Supplies (UPS), cooling systems, and IT infrastructure components like racks and Power Distribution Units (PDUs).

This role demands an understanding of the products and a strategic vision for the division’s direction within the broader scope of the data centre industry. Garner’s work involves navigating the intricacies of market demands, technological advancements, and the ever-present challenge of sustainability within the data centre ecosystem.

Marc’s desire for leadership and team management stemmed from this period, driven by a realisation that while strategy could direct actions, real change and progress come from the collective efforts of a dedicated team. This insight led him to seek roles that allowed him to build and lead teams, culminating in his leadership position within the Secure Power Division.

Embracing Industry Challenges

Stepping into the data centre industry presented Garner with a unique set of challenges and learning opportunities. The data centre market, with its distinct dynamics and channels, was a departure from the electrical and industrial sectors he had previously navigated.

Taking a leadership role in the industry demanded a rapid upskilling in the specifics of data centre operations and an understanding of the sector’s critical importance to the global digital infrastructure.

Marc embraced this challenge, recognising the fast-paced nature of the industry as both a test and an opportunity for growth. His journey underscores the importance of adaptability, continuous learning, and strategic thinking in navigating the complexities of the data centre industry.

Perhaps the most rewarding aspect of Marc’s role is his immersion in the data centre community. The industry, while vast, maintains a tight-knit feel, fostering a culture of collaboration and shared innovation.

It is a sector where new faces and ideas are welcome, where the pace of technological advancement drives everyone forward, and where the collective efforts of individuals contribute to the larger goals of efficiency, sustainability, and resilience.

The Attraction of Sustainability and Innovation

Marc Garner’s journey into the heart of Schneider Electric’s data centre operations coincided with a growing industry-wide emphasis on sustainability and innovation.

For Marc, the allure of working within this sphere stems from the opportunity to contribute positively to the planet while driving technological advancement.

“There’s a lot of interest around sustainability and how we can contribute to protecting our planet,” he explained.

In recent years, the data centre sector has increasingly come under scrutiny for its substantial energy consumption and environmental impact. This challenge has spurred a wave of innovation aimed at reducing carbon footprints, optimising energy use, and promoting renewable energy sources within the industry.

The intersection of sustainability and innovation in the data centre industry is a dynamic field of exploration and development.

Marc identified that the rapid pace of technological change within the industry, particularly the shift towards cloud computing and the deployment of advanced cooling and power management systems, is central to achieving sustainability goals. These innovations enhance operational efficiency and resilience but also pave the way for greener data centre designs that can significantly reduce the industry’s environmental impact.

Garner’s work in the Secure Power Division places him at the forefront of these efforts, overseeing the integration of sustainable practices and technologies into data centre solutions. This focus on environmental stewardship can be significant draw for young professionals and graduates looking to make a meaningful impact through their careers.

Navigating Skills Shortages with Fresh Talent

In the rapidly evolving data centre industry, the demand for skilled professionals continues to outpace the supply, presenting a significant challenge for companies striving to keep up with the technological and infrastructural advancements.

Marc underscored the critical need for fresh talent to address the burgeoning skills shortage.

“Right now, in the data centre industry, we probably need somewhere around another 300,000 workers by the end of next year,” Garner said, highlighting the scale of demand for new expertise in areas ranging from cooling and power to software, cabling infrastructure, and beyond.

Marc’s perspective on the talent shortage is concerned with filling vacancies and enriching the industry with diverse skills and fresh perspectives. The data centre sector offers a plethora of opportunities for individuals from various educational and professional backgrounds, particularly given its complex ecosystem involving power management, cooling technology, project management, and lifecycle services.

This diversity in roles means that there is a place for talents from different sectors, be it engineering, IT, project management, or environmental science, to contribute to the data centre industry’s growth and innovation.

For Garner, the appeal of the data centre industry to potential newcomers lies in its dynamic nature, community spirit, sustainability visions, and the vast array of career paths it offers.

“Say yes. And say yes, quickly,” he advises those contemplating a career in data centres.

Marc’s words are a call to action for individuals seeking a rewarding career that combines technical challenge, innovation, and the chance to contribute to a sustainable future. It is also a reminder for the industry to continue its efforts in outreach, education, and training to attract and retain the next generation of data centre professionals.

The Power of Community and Continuous Learning

In an industry as complex and rapidly evolving as data centres, the value of community and the pursuit of continuous learning cannot be overstated.

Marc emphasised the crucial role this community plays, remarking on the industry’s unique blend of competitiveness and collaboration.

“For such a big business, it’s a fairly small community,” he reflected, underscoring how regular interactions at industry events foster a sense of familiarity and mutual support among professionals.

The data centre community’s tight-knit nature facilitates an environment where knowledge sharing and mentorship thrive as the industry continues to grow. This environment is vital for tackling the sector’s myriad challenges, from technical complexities to sustainability goals.

Embracing Failures

In the journey of any professional, especially those navigating the high-stakes world of data centres, challenges and failures are inevitable.

Marc candidly shared insights into how he has turned challenges and failures into stepping stones, embodying a mindset that has been crucial in his ascent within the industry.

Early in his career, Marc grappled with the desire to be seen as successful and the fear of failure. This paradox is one many professionals encounter, where the pressure to excel can often overshadow the rich learning opportunities presented by setbacks.

He reflected on this challenge, acknowledging that it took time and experience to appreciate that ‘failing is a good thing’. This realisation marked a pivotal change in his outlook, allowing him to embrace failures as essential components of the learning process and a driving force behind innovation and growth.

A key aspect of overcoming challenges and embracing failures is the cultivation of a resilient team culture. Marc’s leadership philosophy underscored the importance of creating a supportive environment where team members feel empowered to take risks, make mistakes, and learn from them.

Given the data centre industry’s close-knit community, a question arises: how forgiving is this sector towards the failures and mistakes of its members?

Garner believes the industry’s response to setbacks is largely positive, as long as individuals show accountability and a proactive attitude towards rectifying errors. This community’s forgiving nature, in Marc’s experience, is predicated on the collective understanding that challenges are par for the course and that the response to these obstacles is what truly defines a professional’s mettle.

A Vision for the Future with Sustainability at the Core

Marc envisions a future where data centres, integral to the digital infrastructure that powers our world, lead the way in environmental stewardship and green innovation.

Garner articulated a nuanced perspective on the data centre industry’s role in the sustainability conversation.

On one hand, data centres are significant energy consumers, a reality that demands responsible management and innovation to minimise environmental impact. On the other, they hold the potential to be key enablers of sustainability solutions across various sectors.

Through advanced technologies and practices, data centres can optimise their operations, reduce carbon footprints, and even contribute energy back to the grid, embodying the role of ‘prosumers’ — both producers and consumers of energy.

The path to a sustainable future for data centres is paved with innovation. Garner highlighted the transformative impact of advancements in cooling technologies, energy efficiency measures, and the integration of renewable energy sources. These innovations can enhance the operational efficiency and resilience of data centres.

By embracing cutting-edge solutions and practices, the industry can navigate the dual demands of exponential data growth and the urgent need for sustainability.

Achieving sustainability in the sector requires a collective effort. It involves collaboration within the industry, as well as with governments, communities, and other sectors. This collaborative approach is vital for developing and implementing holistic solutions that address both local and global sustainability challenges.

An Invitation for Innovation and Growth

Marc’s reflections on his extensive career culminate in a compelling narrative: an invitation for innovation and growth within the data centre industry.

This invitation is to current professionals within the field and potential newcomers, signalling the vast opportunities for technological advancement and personal development in an industry at the forefront of shaping the future digital landscape.

Marc also encourages professionals within the industry to adopt a growth mindset. Embracing challenges, learning from failures, and remaining open to continuous learning are themes that resonate throughout his career.

For those already within the industry, Marc’s story serves as a reminder of the importance of pushing the boundaries of current knowledge and skills. His reflections also act as an open invitation to new talent considering a career in the industry, with commitments to innovation and sustainability making it an attractive field for individuals looking to make a difference through their work.

About the Author

Marc Garner is the Senior Vice President of the Secure Power division in Europe at Schneider Electric. He strongly believes that the data centre industry, including all players from the data centre market and the partner ecosystem, lays at the two sides of the same coin: we are key to fight climate change and the energy crisis.

Ambition and hard work has defined Marc’s professional path. As a leader of a passionate team of people coming from different cultures and realities, one of his biggest priorities is to keep developing talent and promoting diversity in the sector.

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