The 2023 CEOs Who “Get It”
CEO, STACK Americas
- Under Cox’s leadership, STACK brings a safety-first perspective to every aspect of the design, construction and critical operations of its data centers.
- Cox has increased the EHS team to nearly a dozen full-time safety employees, along with additional safety consultants, in the past year. In less than a year, each one of the company’s construction projects has been staffed with a full-time STACK safety representative.
- He consistently challenges the team to know senior leaders from the company’s general contractors and vendor partners to ensure they have a deep respect for safety, and work with them to improve their EHS practices, if necessary.
STACK provides digital infrastructure to scale the world’s most innovative companies. With a client-first approach, STACK delivers a comprehensive suite of campus, build-to-suit, colocation and powered shell solutions in the Americas, EMEA and APAC regions. With 500-plus employees and contractors across the globe, the STACK team provides the experience required to deliver scalable capacity with a commitment to excellence.
Describe your personal journey to becoming a CEO who “gets it.”
My personal journey began in the Army when I first observed the best leaders prioritize the welfare of the troops in their command. Leading the exercise, checking on the well-being of the soldier and taking care of themselves only after everyone else was accounted for was engrained in my memory. The visual has stuck with me throughout my career. I try to make sure everyone at STACK is prioritized before I worry about me. We live in such a dynamic time that it must start with the well-being of our employees. If we do not – at a minimum – prioritize human life in physical safety and mental health, I am not sure the rest of it matters.
Early in STACK’s growth, we recognized the inherent risks to workers in the construction trades and empathized with the challenges faced daily by the tradesmen and women. Although these workers are not direct employees of STACK, they are our partners, and they have people in their lives who count on them to come home safely. It is part of our culture to value these partners and do our part to ensure our buildings are safe to construct and operate. We can delegate the authority to help with a project to our partners, but the responsibility for safety at all levels resides with the CEO.
What is the biggest obstacle to safety at your organization? How do you work to overcome it?
A challenge for any data center developer and operator is ensuring safety for not only your own employees but all partners, contractors, vendors, clients, visitors and the like. STACK ensures all stakeholders harbor a deep and serious commitment to safety. During monthly leadership-level meetings with our key partners, I engage with the C-level leadership to align our safety cultures and discuss the latest innovations in safety. Each meeting’s goal is to understand what our partners are doing to continue to drive their safety culture and to ensure we’re all aligned in how we view safety. STACK established a full contractor qualification process, including an extensive section on safety, in the initial request for proposal, as well as one-on-one interviews with the senior leadership team to evaluate safety culture performance and alignment. I meet with the CEOs of our key partners to make sure our values align and that we maintain open and honest conversation related to safety. The qualification process is just one step in ensuring a global forum of safety and transparency within STACK’s sites across the world.
Why is safety a core value at your organization?
Safety should be a core value of any company. One of our values is: “Growth is hard: Work with empathy and safety.” We are a fast-growing company that is built on the foundation of safety, and thus, STACK has established itself as a prominent safety innovator in the industry. Rather than follow start-up methodologies, we have prioritized cutting-edge standards and technologies more commonly associated with larger companies, allowing STACK to scale for the future, and that has been all the difference.
To instill safety throughout our organization, STACK has implemented 100% fall restraint on scissor lifts; enforced an industry-leading review process of high-risk activities within development and operations; became early adopters of mandated climbing-style helmets at all data centers and construction sites down through sub-level; required that Change Action Board review meetings include high-risk safety activities for employees and clients that are elevated up to our chief data center officer; and initiated utilization of Kaizen principles, such as one-point lessons to share learnings and best practices with our entire portfolio, including the sub-contractor level. Consequently, safety is a firmly rooted value in every aspect of STACK.
How do you instill a sense of safety in employees on an ongoing basis?
I believe safety must be an intrinsic part of company culture, and STACK has enacted standards to ensure it is. We start by providing tools that enable any employee to easily report and identify concerns and issues, as well as recognize co-workers for great safety behavior and performance. This observation program has helped us to improve and engage all levels of the organization while providing valuable insights on areas that need further attention to achieve the desired safety success.
How does your organization measure safety? What are the leading indicators that show you how safe your organization is, and where do you see room for improvement?
STACK is committed to transparency in reporting of incidents and near misses and monitoring for trends weekly. To ensure communication, all construction and operations employees receive training on expectations for incident investigation and reporting. For any incident that is recordable or any serious near misses, the EHS team develops a full corrective action plan and tracks it to closure, with senior leadership engaged throughout the investigative process. We track many standard industry KPIs and are working on more innovative approaches that measure leadership engagement and safety innovations. We believe these new approaches will provide more predictive insights desired to prevent incidents. We seek out partners who are willing to think outside the box, be creative and explore fresh approaches to ensure worker safety.
What role does off-the-job safety play in your organization’s overall safety program? What types of off-the-job safety and health programs does your organization offer to employees?
The health and well-being of our employees on and off the job is important to STACK. To encourage and support health and safety, our critical operations leadership team instills annual goals, including the following: employees using all available paid time off, encouraging volunteerism outside of work, and engaging in community outreach and activities focused on physical and mental health. STACK-sponsored volunteer days support these goals, as well as our initiatives around building supportive teams. The better people know and understand one another, the more likely they are to recognize and reach out when they see a co-worker struggling mentally or with challenges outside of work.
Our teams have also sponsored fitness challenges, such as The Murph Challenge. This challenge supports veterans and appeals to our employees, of whom 30% are veterans. When we see our employees organically identifying opportunities to build teams and friendships in the workplace, we know we are on the right path to a strong and sustainable culture of safety and employee wellness.
We know we have two employee populations that experience the highest suicide rates: construction workers and veterans. That drives us to continue to do more with regard to mental health awareness and support. Training programs that help our managers and leaders identify warning signs, resources available through our benefits programs, and a culture committed to encouraging conversations about safety and health on and off the job is of high importance to STACK.
What have you done to support employee mental health and well-being within your organization?
It starts with creating an empathetic and energetic culture. Each STACK employee is charged with creating a welcoming and inclusive culture where learning and caring are prioritized. This is part of the interview process and reinforced at each opportunity. The positive energy allows for people to grow in their roles.
More tactically, STACK takes employee mental health and well-being very seriously. Within our company benefits program, multiple health insurance plans cover therapy, and we also offer an employee assistance program with up to three face-to-face sessions free of charge. Our ample paid time off of 20 days, plus eight holidays, enable employees to spend more time connecting with their thoughts, loved ones and faith practices throughout the year. Additionally, STACK offers an industry-leading corporate wellness solution that supports mental health journeys and sleep. Last year, STACK gifted all employees with a wellness box of items specifically designed to decrease stress. STACK deeply values our employees, and we take great pride in prioritizing their health and well-being throughout the year.
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