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Weekend Interview: Aligned CEO Andrew Schaap

This series gets into the heads of the decision-makers of CRE, the people shaping the industry by setting investment strategy, workplace design, diversity initiatives and more. 

Andrew Schaap, CEO of data center provider Aligned, embodies what he calls the natural tension of a sector that straddles the worlds of commercial real estate and information technology. 

Prior to joining Aligned in 2017, Schaap spent 11 years at data center REIT Digital Realty Trust, ultimately serving as senior vice president in charge of large-scale global data center builds and major international transactions. Yet his path into the data center development space started firmly in the realm of tech. Schaap co-founded a software firm that was acquired in 2004 and subsequently held leadership positions at Sysix Technologies and Sterling Network Services.   

Dallas-based Aligned has become one of the leading North American data center providers, with a development strategy focused primarily on build-to-suit facilities tailored to hyperscale clients like cloud providers and as-a-service technology firms, social media companies and other large enterprises. Aligned operates campuses in Dallas, Northern Virginia, Chicago, Phoenix and Salt Lake City. 

Along with continuing the company’s growth as a flood of private capital flows toward digital infrastructure, Schaap said he is committed to helping cultivate the next generation of leaders in a data center sector that has struggled to attract younger workers.  

The following has been lightly edited for clarity and style.

Aligned CEO Andrew Schaap

Bisnow: Baron Rothschild once said the “time to buy is when there’s blood in the streets.” Where is the blood today?

Schaap: I would have to say supply chain and capital infusion. With so much development occurring in the data center sector today, the supply chain can be a challenge that can ultimately impact both construction timelines and budgets. Having a pre-purchased, readily available and replenishable inventory can mean the difference between landing or losing a customer or project.

There is currently a large infusion of capital into the data center industry. The key is accessing the right capital. In my opinion, organizations with access to sophisticated, fluid and long-term capital will be the ultimate winners in this climate. Bonus points if your capital partners align with your overall company mission, vision and goals (i.e., sustainability and long-term, strategic expansion).

Bisnow: What is your most controversial CRE opinion and why are you right about it? 

Schaap: There is a natural tension between traditional real estate and technology when it comes to CRE because the needs of customers in both arenas so closely intersect. I believe this creates a need for organizations that specialize in both sides of the coin and that get more creative in terms of solutions for customers’ requirements.

Bisnow: If you weren’t in real estate, what path would your career have taken?

Schaap: If I wasn’t in the data center sector, I would have stayed in technology. Specifically, software.

Aligned CEO Andrew Schaap with his family at the company's Dallas-Fort Worth data center.

Bisnow: If you could make one change to the industry, what would it be?

Schaap: I’d like to see the industry do a better job at marketing itself — specifically, the great contributions it makes, the technologies it enables and the amazing career opportunities it offers. I’ll discuss what we, at Aligned, are doing to combat this issue later in the interview. 

Bisnow: What is one thing you would do differently from early in your career?

Schaap: Buy more hyperscale stock prior to each IPO and never sell. 

Bisnow: As a leader, how do you decide who is worth mentoring and who is simply not a good fit?

Schaap: From my experience, I firmly believe that everyone is worth mentoring. It’s about identifying each person’s strengths and weaknesses and placing them in the right role for success.

Bisnow: What are your thoughts on the metaverse? Does it have any relevance for CRE?

Schaap: Aren’t we already in it? At the end of the day, technology continues to change and evolve everyone’s lives. It impacts CRE because the attributes that we’re looking for in a data center are often the same as our end users and competitors. I believe that the metaverse and things like it will keep putting pressure on data center companies, forcing us to be more creative at sourcing and solutions for our customers.

Aligned CEO Andrew Schaap on the slopes with his family.

Bisnow: What do you see as the lasting impacts of the pandemic on CRE? 

Schaap: “Telecommuting” has been around for more than 20 years; the pandemic has just made it real and widespread. I have found that giving employees more flexible schedules by having them work remotely has created even more productivity for Aligned. Depending on the industry and vertical, I think we will continue to see an acceleration in work-from-home flexibility and less mandatory in-office employment.

Bisnow: As you know, there is a massive conversation underway regarding advancing more people of color and women into the C-suite. What are you doing to address those voices and that movement within your own organization?

Schaap: At Aligned, supporting a diverse and inclusive workforce is in our corporate DNA. This past year yielded tremendous workforce growth for Aligned. To bolster our efforts, we focused on a variety of platforms and organizations for hiring a diverse workforce.

We are supporting a variety of organizations from a philanthropic perspective such as the National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering, Women in Technology and Nomad Futurist Foundation, which focuses on addressing the issue at a foundational level by helping children in underserved communities understand the technologies that power today’s devices and applications and helping create a pipeline of future data center leaders.

We are also a member and supporter of the Women’s Tech Forum, focused on mentorship programs and events for women in the industry or looking to enter the industry. Additionally, Aligned is a Foundation Sponsor of Infrastructure Masons, and we are working with AFCOM to bring in potential interns into our internship program.

Bisnow: So, this is the weekend interview. What’s your typical weekend routine?

Schaap: My typical weekend routine: gym, running my kids to their sports practices and seeing live music (I love any style). That leads into what I call “Smunday” (Sunday with your brain thinking about all the work on Monday).