NEXTDC’s Nick Choy on the Journey from Start-up to ASX 100 Business

By Alexandra Cain

It’s been a seminal decade for Nick Choy, who is the Head of Finance at Australia’s leading independent data centre operator, NEXTDC. Since he started with the business as employee number one, it has gone from being a start-up to an ASX100 company. Choy credits the company’s ability to create trust with its stakeholders as the secret to its success.

Nick Choy

“It’s been a tremendous and incredible journey over the last 10 years. At the beginning, I signed up to an industry in its infancy. Because of this we had many hurdles to overcome. It was hard to attract the right talent because nobody had heard of us. We were not making a profit and in the early stages, not even making any revenue. We didn’t even have a data centre to show customers. Yet we were asking customers to put in place multiyear contracts for mission-critical services that are crucial to their business. They had incredible trust in our founders.” NEXTDC was founded by technology entrepreneur, Bevan Slattery, and is led by CEO, Craig Scroggie, who was also a founding Board member.

NEXTDC, which has 250 staff, was incorporated in May 2010 and listed on the ASX in December 2010 with a prospectus based on a vision to help enterprises harness the digital age, improving society through the advancement of technology. It returned a maiden profit in 2015. Its foundation customers included the likes of Australia Post and Optus and today, the business runs data centres around the country and supplies its services to a diverse range of leading organisations, including global cloud providers and government entities. “We were fortunate that our founders had a strong track record in technology,” Choy says.

As the business has grown, Choy has been involved in everything from setting up the books, building the business, financial reporting, business planning, workforce planning and funding. Preparing budgets, obtaining, and managing funding as well as preparation of business plans consumes much of the team’s time. “There are very different outcomes between building a 12-month budget a facility manager can use versus developing a view of the business across a 20-year investment horizon. These are skills you learn on the job and through a lot of late nights and blood, sweat, and tears to deliver on very tight timeframes.”

At the moment, his focus is on supporting the growth of the business, which is hugely challenging given the explosion and exponential growth in data – Choy cites a figure that the amount of data we generate doubles every two years.

“With growth come challenges, but that’s a good problem to have. The disruption we are experiencing at the moment has accelerated growth in data. It takes up to two years to plan and build a new data centre, which is a long-term investment. Catering for our growth is crucial.”

Nick Choy, Head of Finance | NEXTDC

Availability and security of power, the availability of fibre connections to the location, as well as bushfire and flood risk – even whether the centre is under a flight path – are all considerations when deciding locations for future data centres.

Present focus

Due to the pandemic, the finance team has been working from home since March, which has required a new approach to staying connected. “It was a shock to the system going from seeing your colleagues every day to only really seeing them on video. It’s been important to stick to our usual rhythms, for example the daily 9:00 AM huddle and ‘winning Wednesdays’. This is an informal catch up we do on video so everyone can see each other. This has helped with team bonding.”

Day-to-day, much of Choy’s time is spent improving NEXTDC’s systems and processes. “We pride ourselves on innovation and we’re always finding new ways of doing things. We love to push boundaries in everything from engineering design to customer service.”

The finance team works closely with the rest of the business delivering its product to the market, designing new processes, considering how growth initiatives impact staff and considering how to deliver better and more consistent services to customers.

“Communication is paramount, especially at this time. In an office environment, you can have a conversation with four or five different people at once, which is more difficult at the moment. So we have a weekly all-hands call, where everyone in the business meets for an hour, which is absolutely crucial in this time when there’s so much uncertainty.”

Choy says if he could give one piece of advice to his younger self he would recommend always focusing on the positive.

“It’s better to be optimistic and sometimes wrong rather than pessimistic and always right. It’s important to have a growth mindset. We need to keep improving, regardless of what the competition is doing, because there is no end to what we do. We will always want to deliver the best service and we will never stop innovating. There will never be a time when the business will rest on its laurels and stop because we believe we have won. We’ll always keep innovating, improving, and going the extra mile.”