All posts by Graham Weston

Katrina Shelter

L.A. Lorek

Express-News Business Writer

Within 36 hours, volunteers transformed a vacant Montgomery Ward’s building into a Hurricane Katrina relief shelter that also later served Hurricane Rita evacuee.

Graham Weston, who owns the Windsor Park building, which had been vacant for five years, called assistant city manager Chris Brady Friday afternoon on Sept. 2 to offer it as a shelter.

Brady and District Fire Chief Nim Kidd showed up at the building a half an hour later and said they wanted it. To get it ready, dozens of volunteers from Weston’s companies, Rackspace Managed Hosting and the Weston Centre, worked around the clock to take down retail displays, remove hazardous obstacles, install desks and computers and set up cots. Weston also called in electrical engineers who worked nonstop to get the generators running, fix the escalators and correct other electrical problems.

A cleaning crew of 65 people worked by flashlight until 11 p.m. when the power finally came on, said Garry Miller, a friend of Weston’s and a volunteer who worked on special projects at the shelter.

Rackspace brought in a recreational vehicle to set up outside the shelter for the workers to take brief naps and clean up in between jobs. Weston had bought the Windsor Park property for Rackspace’s new headquarters, but at the last minute he chose to relocate Rackspace’s operations from downtown to the former headquarters for Builder’s Square on Datapoint Drive. That left him with the vacant building and when he heard about the hurricane he wanted to help out.

Weston called a lot of friends to help outfit the shelter. Charles Butt of H.E. Butt Grocery Co., sent 1,000 milk crates for people to sit on and to use for storage. Time Warner sent more than half a dozen trucks to wire the building for high-speed Internet access and phone service. SBC Communications had crews install a bank of telephones.

When the first buses began to arrive Saturday, the shelter was ready.

“The biggest challenge was trying to get the paperwork done when in the back of your mind you know they haven’t slept for days,” Weston said.

Edwin Grubbs, co founder of Rackspace and three other programmers created a database to contain information on all the evacuees staying at the shelter. They also created a search engine to compile all missing persons data from more than 50 Web sites into one easily searchable site. Several reunions have taken place since the program, http://search.sasafelist.org, went live.

“Private individuals filled the gap that government didn’t,” Weston said.

Rackspace donated computers, printers, fax machines, tables, a public announcing system, radios – whatever the shelter needed, Weston said. It also provided similar equipment to the city’s other major shelters at KellyUSA and the defunct Levi’s plants.

The Windsor Park shelter, which processed more than 3,000 evacuees from Hurricane Katrina evacuees and 3,000 evacuees from Hurricane Rita, is one of the few privately owned shelters. It’s a great example of the private and public sector working together during a crisis, said Ramiro Cavazos, the city’s economic development director, who worked as a volunteer manager there. He also spent time last weekend volunteering at a defunct Wal-Mart on Highway 151 to help out with the Hurricane Rita evacuees. City employees pitched in after they completed their regular duties at the office, Cavazos said.

“People doubled up when they needed to to help others,” Cavazos said.

The leadership of Mayor Phil Hardberger and Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff also contributed to San Antonio’s ability to manage the dual crisis of Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita, Cavazos said. It also raised San Antonio’s profile nationwide as a city that can respond quickly, compassionately and effectively, he said.

The federal government and nonprofit organizations like the American Red Cross and the San Antonio Food Bank also played a vital role.

On Sept. 5, Don Whittemore, head of the Rocky Mountain Incident Management Team, took over the Windsor Park shelter under a contract with the Federal Emergency Management Agency. He normally fights fires, but he says it’s the same set of skills to react to a crisis. He created an organization chart and put people in charge of operations, logistics, planning, safety and he even putting a public information officer in place. He used many of the same people Weston had already put in those kinds of positions. But he also brought in his own team of firefighters and emergency workers.

“Everyone has brought their skills to the table,” Whittemore said. “It’s not about us it’s about our residents.”

The Rocky Mountain Incident Management Team did a great job, but they showed up too late, Weston said. The federal government lagged behind state, local and private businesses in responding to the needs of the hurricane victims in a timely manager, he said.

“You can’t wait for a disaster like this to build the systems needed for a tragedy,” Weston said.

To deal with a crisis, companies and government need to anticipate in advance what might occur and then prepare on how to deal with it and then respond, said William F. Crittenden, professor of strategic management at Northeastern University in Boston. Some of those relationships broke down during Hurricane Katrina, he said. Local government leaders need to spearhead the contacts among the nonprofit, business and government communities, he said.

In San Antonio’s case, the response worked out very well, Cavazos said. Everyone worked together, he said.

One of the things companies and governments need to consider in a disaster is who are they key stakeholders and who is most fragile among those stakeholders, Crittenden said.

“As we saw with Hurricane Katrina, the citizens who lived in some of the poorest neighborhoods were in fact the most vulnerable and those were the folks we weren’t reaching out to in a fast enough and efficient enough manner,” Crittenden said.

Yet San Antonio responded to take care of the most fragile citizens in a heart-warming way as hundreds of volunteers spent time in the shelters and donated money, clothes and other items for the evacuees. Businesses also donated goods and services and money to help out.

On the fly, Weston and his team developed a mini-village, which some dubbed “Windsor World” in just a few days. They decorated an entire wall with a chalkboard for children’s artwork. They erected basketball hoops and closed off a play area for kids. In the garden center area, they created showers complete with blue shower curtains and they installed washers and dryers for resident’s laundry. They also set up a makeshift childcare center, a medical center, an eyeglass center, a job center, a cafeteria and even a beauty care shop complete with pedicure and manicure treatments and hair grooming – all staffed by volunteers.

“We wanted to give back to the community,” said Veronica Beckmann, a senior at Roosevelt Cosmetology school, who volunteered to do pedicures and hairstyles.

More than 150 Rackspace and Weston Centre workers volunteered at the shelter for six-hour shifts to do everything from data entry to setting up cots. City officials, such as Cavazos, volunteered for shifts at the shelter. The different management and personnel skills drawn from the private and public sectors helped make the shelter run smoothly.

When the shelter opened, Weston’s wife drove to Toys-R-Us and bought a vanload of new toys for the children’s play areas. Weston also bought blankets and pillows at Wal-Mart. The shelter had 2,000 cots but no blankets and no pillows. Procurement was one of the most time-consuming tasks, he said.

“We each spent money out of our pockets that bridged the gaps,” Weston said.

llorek@express-news.net

Cloud Confusion

I must hear the word Cloud Computing 20 times a day. I hear it on NPR and TV. And there’s unending chatter about it in the blogosphere. Last month Rackspace co-founder Pat Condon and I were having lunch with a Rackspace customer who is a tech guru in his own right. He put his hands in the air, shook them near his head and said “woo! cloud computing!! There’s so much talk about cloud computing. What the heck does that mean?”

Even the most computer savvy can’t define it, yet there is no topic in America that’s has more buzz right now (…..except for Barack Obama, or the economy, perhaps. I would have to look at the numbers to know for sure.) There is no doubt that there is a lot of CLOUD CONFUSION in the world today. But, what exactly is cloud computing? I will tell you…..listen closely.

Cloud computing is simply computing delivered over the Web. That’s it. Simple and easy to understand. But it’s a very powerful idea whose time has come. Its like a tsunami that’s been gathering momentum for 24 months and has come ashore right now.  This wave is carrying the force of an atom bomb and it will dramatically change the landscape of computing on every continent.

Why? Its a cheaper AND better way to buy computing power. Really. Seldom do these two qualities go together but when they do, things can change in a big way.

History has seen this many times before.  For example, years ago our great-grandparents burned wood and coal to generate energy for their homes.  Today, few of us generate our own power. Instead, we buy it from power companies. These companies generate and distribute electricity from massive centralized power plants that can cost over $1bl to build. Once created, the power travels at the speed of light over the power grid to your home. Cloud computing works the same way, but it comes from companies like Rackspace instead.  And, the “power” is the power of computing, generated on servers running in huge scale data centers scattered around the country somewhere (it doesn’t matter where, really). The computing power is delivered to your home over a network of fiber optic cables we call the “Internet” or the “Web”. When computing is done centrally and on this scale the cost goes down, naturally. Recently I spoke with a Fortune 500 Rackspce customer who expects to cut IT costs 85% with Rackspace’s cloud computing.  WOW!!!!  That’s certainly cheaper, and it’s better because there is zero capital cost to the customer.  And because our cloud computing system is automatically CDN-enabled. And because Rackspace works 24/7 to keep their applications running and care for our customers.  This powerful combination of benefits packs the power of an atom bomb!

Just like any major technology category, cloud computing will continue to evolve. And along the way, computing will change in form. It will move out of the server closets of small businesses and the data centers of large ones. These rooms will be empty because computing power will be bought from Rackspace and other cloud computing providers.  This proposition will be so compelling, cloud computing will become not just a way to buy computing power, but THE way of doing computing.

So, there it is. I hope I have helped reduce your cloud confusion a little.  Even now, as I write this blog, Rackspace is delivering cloud computing from 45,000 servers for over 50,000 customers. Over one million people will wake up tomorrow and check their email quietly delivered to them from Rackspace’s cloud computing system. This blog is also delivered to you by Rackspace’s cloud.

Rackspace’s exists to help IT departments do their jobs better AND cheaper. We are a tool for them and we will work tirelessly to earn their trust as collaborators and partners. We will help our friends in the IT department become heroes by helping them drastically cut their employer’s computing costs.

Stay tuned.

Bank Earning Army of Promoters…at a Cost $1.8bl!!

Could having an army of promoters be worth $1.8bl?

 

Banco Santander, Spain’s largest bank manages a lot of money for customers. Some of the money they were responsible for was invested in Madoff’s fraudulent investment scheme. Today, the bank has agreed to compensate their customers for losses arising from these investments made on client’s behalf.

Cost to the bank is $1.8b! The bank is admitting that it failed its customers and that it keeps its promises. It was hired to be a middleman for being “quality control” for its clients. Its job was to evaluate and select among thousands of money managers around the world and guide their clients to the best ones. So, the bank was duped by Madoff, no doubt. But, the bank was hired look out for clients and that is exactly what it is doing.

Other banks and investment advisors will be sued and will hire lawyers to fight their clients instead; they will eventually settle. They will get no goodwill from clients for doing so. They will get a small story on the Web that tells a story of how they fought to the bitter end but settled without admission of guilt to avoid the risks of trial. While these advisors may end up paying less than this bank by fighting their clients, to clients, 100% of the cost will be flushed. Everyone will know that these firms didn’t keep their promises when put to the test.

At Rackspace we would call this being Fanatical. Bravo Banco Santander- I hope others follow your lead.

Net Promoter Score—80!!!

Today I had business breakfast with five leaders of exciting multi-billion dollar company (we’ll call them Sugar Corp) that prides itself on great customer experience. Sugar’s execs explained to us that their firm used a system called Net Promoter Score (NP Score) to measure customer engagement. They said this measurement was so important to Sugar that a portion of their compensation was tied to it. That shows the company is really serious about pleasing customers! Net Promoter Score is a system created by the world’s foremost expert on loyalty, Fred Reichheld of Bain and Co.

Rackspace has followed Reichheld’s teachings since our inception and today uses the Net Promoter Score. But, our score is 40….and Sugar Corp’s score is 80! That score is truly world class since the rating has a range frome negative 100 to positive 200. Actually, 40 is amazingly good and we at Rackspace are very proud of it.

Promoters are people who rave about your company. Detractors bad mouth you. A NET Promoter is the difference between these two. A 40 means that Rackspace has an army of “promoters” in the marketplace singing our praises. And, these promoters out-number detractors by a good margin. Promoters act as Rackspace’s sales force…for free. They drive down marketing costs and push profits higher. Creating promoters are the key to every business.

How the NP Score is measured:

Over the many years Rackspace has been measuring its NP Score I have never met a leader whose firm had a higher score than Rackspace. Our score of 40 is darn good and reflects a ton of engagement from our customers out in the maketplace. Our commitment to Fanatical Support has created customer-promoters who have propelled Rackspace to be the world leader in hostng #1 over the past decade to over 2500 Rackers (employees) and revenues over $500m.

I am proud of the trust we have created with our customers, ….but a score of 80 makes my mind go crazy. I wonder where Rackspace would be if we had a score of 80! Would our customer referral rate be twice as high? Would our profit be twice as large? Would we be twice as successful?

As I listened to Sugar’s leaders, I knew that Rackspce would be an much better company with a score of 80….We would be a greater company. When a company commits to greatness, customers know it. Those customers bring more of their business and they tell their friends. Its that simple. There are so very few companies that truly commit to greatness because it it so hard. And, its so easy to settle for “average”.

The Dirk Video from 1999

This video shows Rackspace co-founder Dirk Elmendorf giving an orientation session to newly hired techs. After Dirk did this talk a dozen times, he set up his video camera on a bookshelf and taped himself talk.  After then, Dirk just gave a copy of his video to each new Racker and said “this is your technical training, watch it and then get to work.”

Dirk you are famous.