Changing of the Guard
The London Internet Exchange (LINX) was established in 1994, using a donated piece of equipment no larger than a set-top box, no legal contracts and five founding members wanting to keep traffic local and avoid transatlantic fees. Now spread across the UK, the US and Saudi Arabia, this business has grown massively in the last 25 years. Incoming CEO Kurt Erik ‘Kurtis’ Lindqvist has a huge legacy behind him, and big shoes to fill. We caught up with him to find out what skills from a life of industry experience he planned to bring to the table.
Headquartered in Peterborough, the London Internet Exchange has seen a changing of the guard, with Ex-Netnod CEO Kurt Erik Lindqvist stepping up to the top role. Operating infrastructure in six different geographical locations made up of London, Manchester, Scotland and Cardiff in the UK, Northern Virginia in the US and Jeddah in Saudi Arabia, he is taking control of a big operation. Internet interconnects consist of the physical and logical infrastructure needed for Internet traffic to pass between the various network operators and content providers, which form the internet and are vital to smooth internet operation.
Talking to Kurtis about how he got started, we were keen to touch on his taking part in an industry at its genesis. Having founded his own internet service provider in the early 90s, he soon found himself employed as Technical Director at EUnet, tasked with building up the Swedish operation.
‘I was lucky that when I started in the telecom industry in 1996 after having studied computer science, I worked with some of the pioneers of Internet in Europe,’ he tells us. Being involved at this point in the development of the internet was a huge chance to do something truly innovative, and Kurtis was encouraged by the team he worked with. ‘They were both inspiring and pushed you to explore new technologies and opportunities. Having previously been involved in an Internet start-up that I successfully exited from it was great to see this entrepreneurial spirit in a corporate environment.’ Success followed success, and Kurtis was moved to offices in Germany, and finally, head-office in the Netherlands. ‘This gave me international experience which has been very valuable,’ Kurtis smiles.
This international exposure allowed Kurtis to be appointed to his first CEO role at Netnod, an operator of national critical telecommunications infrastructure in Sweden, in 2002. ‘I served as CEO for 13 years and during this time learnt a lot about developing new market segments and new products,’ we are told. Kurtis goes on to explain that ‘while not a specific project, growing a company from national operator of a single telecom infrastructure into a provider of wider infrastructure and targeting a global market successfully was a great lesson. Breaking down the strategy in components that can be executed and made tangible was an important lesson learnt from this. This is also helped to show that while there might have been short term setbacks the strategy was working, being executed and results were delivered.’ This experience has given Kurtis a unique perspective on the way a business can and should be run. Following his time at Netnod, he gained an EMBA from IMD in Lausanne and moved to London to take up the role of CMO of LINX, earning the role of CEO in September this year.
Kurtis’ recent promotion follows 19 years of John Souter at the head of the company. As a not-for-profit organisation with no shareholders or equity, membership and service fees can be invested purely into strengthening all LINX network services. As a company with a slightly different ethos to the norm, we asked what responsibilities he has taken on in his new role. ‘As CEO, I lead the development of strategy, set priorities and am part of forming the company culture,’ Kurtis opines. ‘To achieve this, I believe it is important to listen to staff, learn their points of view and understand their challenges. I try to ensure that staff feel they have support from management and a clear understanding of the company strategy and why we have picked this path. If staff feel they have had input to this, they will also support it.’ He adds pointedly. ‘As a leader you need to provide clarity on where you are going, but this clarity can only come from an understanding of the world around you.’
For Kurtis, the key to success in the business world lies in the ability to communicate clearly in both directions. ‘I think it is important to listen to others, both your staff and your customers,’ he explains. ‘Also, I think part of my success is that I have been approachable by staff and customers, and thereby gained a lot of insights. However, I don’t believe that I have all answers, but I can help a team form these answers, and this is and has been a key to my success.’
The open culture at LINX promotes these aspects that Kurtis values most highly, building the clear understanding that is essential to his working style on a base of transparency, flexibility and respect. ‘We empower staff in their roles,’ he tells us proudly, ‘and we measure staff satisfaction and culture. To ensure that we have a coherent and well understood culture, we have conducted a yearlong program with all staff that holds a leadership position where we have discussed how to make culture better understood and enforced where needed. We have also held company wide meetings where we have discussed core values and the company culture.’
In order to truly empower staff, Kurtis understands they must be allowed to make mistakes. ‘I know these are management buzzwords, but you need to allow staff to fail but then to help and support them in learning. This way you build a stronger team and allow exploration of opportunities. If you believe you have all the answers you will strangle independence.’ Independent thinking is something that Kurtis thrives on, being one of the core factors that has given him success. When it comes to giving advice to others, it is a person’s ability to work proactively that underlines all his wisdom. ‘Believe in yourself! Find a mentor who can guide you and provide advice, but also make clear goals for yourself. What do you want to achieve, what do you enjoy but also what in life is important to you! Life and success are not all about work, and success outside of work often helps in in achieving success at work!’
Looking to his forthcoming work at LINX, it’s clear that the uptake of Cloud Services has created a separate interconnect market for interconnecting between Internet providers or Enterprises and Cloud Service providers or Cloud aggregators who provide access to multiple Cloud Service providers. We’re convinced that LINX has more plans in this direction, but Kurtis remains coy. ‘Sharing plans in a competitive environment is always dangerous,’ he says, dryly. ‘We will continue to work to ensure that LINX as a mutual, delivers value to its members and I look forward to working on the strategy and success of LINX. There are a lot of changes currently in the interconnect market, which is also an opportunity for us to develop the value proposition to the companies who uses our services!’ he told us. Even though we couldn’t get any more detail out of Kurtis and his plans for LINX in the future, we’re sure that his people-focused style of management will make whatever direction he heads in a veritable success.