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On the Hot Seat

Ascent to the top of Iron Mountain

The data storage company's new CEO says overseas expansion is essential

(Wiqan Ang for the Boston Globe)
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June 29, 2008

Bob Brennan, 48, took over this month as president and chief executive of Iron Mountain Inc., the Boston data protection and storage services company that has been expanding rapidly into new digital and overseas markets. He succeeded Richard Reese, a 27-year Iron Mountain veteran who grew its sales from $3 million in 1981 to more than $3 billion projected for this year. Reese will stay on as executive chairman. Brennan, a New York native who joined the company in 2004 when it acquired his previous firm, Connected Corp. of Framingham, spoke with Globe business reporter Robert Weisman recently at Iron Mountain's headquarters near South Station.

Richard Reese is a tough act to follow. How do you take Iron Mountain to the next level, and what is the next level? Well, Richard is an icon in business, and he did an amazing job growing this company. We're a trend-favored business. We essentially protect and store information on an outsourced basis. This is a real problem for our customers. They need it done around the world. We're not everywhere around the world, so we will expand overseas. And they need it done digitally as well as physically. And while we're a leader in digital storage as a service, we're still in the first inning of that.

How hard is it coming into a company like Iron Mountain from the outside as opposed to coming up the ranks as Richard did? I think it's easier because so many people embraced me, and the company already had scale. I couldn't be in the position I'm in if the existing management team didn't embrace and support and move me along at such a fast pace, from Richard to the rest of the senior executives. So it's been . . . easy's the wrong word. But the company's gone out of its way to make me successful.

You led the push into digital markets. What new markets might Iron Mountain enter, both digital and geographic? So we expect to be very aggressive in building out our digital footprint. Our customers need a lot of help as it relates to thinking about how do they classify, how do they index, how do they store, how do they retrieve, how do they destroy the information that's coming at them in an unabated way digitally. And we can help them do that. We don't have any other agenda, we don't have a technology agenda, we don't use the information. Our history and the trust that we've created as a brand is around simply storing and protecting your information over time.

Geographically, think about the largest economies where we have a small presence. We have no presence in the Middle East, none to speak of in Japan. We're a 20 million-euro business in Germany, the third-largest economy in the world. We can expect our physical and our digital business to grow quite aggressively in those geographies.

Will Iron Mountain continue its acquisition spree? Acquisition is central to our DNA. We will continue to acquire. Our acquisitions will be primarily focused on the digital business and international expansion. We feel quite comfortable with our market position in the United States in our core physical businesses.

You recently entered a record management partnership with IBM. Are companies like IBM and EMC also shaping up as competitors for Iron Mountain? Are those companies starting to enter your markets? With IBM, HP, Microsoft, EMC, there are areas where we intersect and areas where we cooperate. We've attracted a lot of attention with storage as a service. We were pioneers in online backup. We had the two earliest online backup providers that we acquired in Connected and LiveVault. So there's a lot of attention being paid to that space right now, and a lot of consolidation. We'll have some competition at the fringe.

How are high energy prices affecting Iron Mountain's business? It's about 3 percent of our costs, and those costs are obviously escalating. We pass them along to our customers, and we're also able to just be smarter about how we conserve energy. We're also one of the largest recyclers of paper in the world, so we're very careful about how we use energy. We take a proactive approach to our facilities, systems, and vehicles so that we don't simply absorb the cost and pass it on to our customers. We want to conserve to the greatest extent possible.

So the company's growing. Is it growing in Massachusetts? Sure. We have about 1,400 people in Massachusetts between our field offices and our headquarters office. This is also where our digital business is headquartered and, as I mentioned earlier, we're going to be very aggressive in growing that business. That's in Southborough. We've just taken on more space out there. We're committed to Boston and to Massachusetts. It's in our blood. It's who we are.

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