Akamai Diversity

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Do you believe in Serendipity?

In December 2016, after a month of mountain bike racing and touring in Nepal, I commenced the Executive Program in General Management at MIT. The first term was at Sloan School of Management in Cambridge and for the first time in my life, I finally could relate to studying. In fact, I was even enjoying it! One of the many practical subjects was "How Companies Become Platform Leaders" by Professor Pierre Azoulay with references to MIT alum companies like Dropbox; and a fascinating case study on Akamai, the brainchild of Dr. Tom Leighton and Danny Lewin which grew to become the world's largest cloud delivery platform today.

Fast forward to the fourth term, in between project work and online coursework, an industry friend called me about a career opportunity at Akamai. After some research, I was captivated by the Akamai story. Content is increasingly consumed in high-definition digital formats like 4K internet TV and via a plethora of mobile devices, and AR and VR are moving into online gaming. These new mediums are performance-sensitive, and Akamai's massive and pervasive content delivery network (CDN) is well positioned to deliver a secure and exceptional digital user experience.

However, the CDN space is a crowded one, with many competitors offering a variety of options albeit not at the same scale or sophistication of Akamai. There is also the constant threat of giant CDN consumers like Apple, Facebook and Microsoft developing their in-house proprietary CDN, but it remains to be seen if the economics are viable.

Although demand by media and web customers for CDN continues to grow exponentially, Akamai's dominant market share of 30% (some estimate to over 50% depending on whom you speak to), whilst impressive and rare in the IT industry is also a challenge. There are not many large "new logos" to capture. Add in price and competitive pressures and this dampens the propensity for growth at the historical rates to please the Street. Hence, the AKAM stock price has been undervalued for some time now despite solid company fundamentals and a healthy balance sheet. 

So Akamai astutely diversified into the adjacent cloud security market several years ago, protecting companies and governments from the incessant cyber attacks. They have seen a rapid acceleration in growth and broadened into securing IoT devices, essentially providing a fast and secure exchange of data with any connected device, anywhere on Earth.

Based on that momentum, Akamai is now expanding into another adjacent market. Enterprises are migrating applications to the cloud, users and devices are moving outside of the corporate perimeter, resulting in expansive and porous attack surfaces. This disruption has created a shift in the way data center infrastructure, network and security are designed and managed. To help mitigate this, Akamai built a cloud perimeter around enterprise applications, securely and seamlessly delivered on the Akamai cloud platform. Thus, Akamai is doing for the enterprise what they have done for the internet. And this is the business that the career opportunity was all about. 

In August 2017, I went back to Cambridge for my fifth and final term. One of the activities included visiting Akamai's Executive Briefing Center and the mind-blowing Network Operations Command Center (we saw the global internet traffic and cyber attacks in real-time), just a stone's throw from Sloan at Kendall Square. It was here that I learned about the touching story of Danny Lewin, who was on one of the planes on 9/11 and died heroically attacking the hijackers. 

As I was in town, one connection led to another and I had the opportunity for an informal meeting with my future boss. Many interviews later, I was invited to lead and build-out the Enterprise business in the Asia Pacific & Japan theater. What an honor and privilege, to be part of a global and strategic mission!

And so my MIT journey ended in a full circle, with me joining a storied company with deep roots in Cambridge. The MIT ethos - Mens et Manus (Mind and Hand) can be felt even today in Akamai, with brilliant people working hard to make the world a better and safer place. In a way, it seems like we had found each other. Or did we? Perhaps MIT piqued my interest in Akamai, or did studying at MIT give me access to and credibility with Akamai, or was it just coincidence? 

I would like to think it was all of the above with a generous dose of serendipity. 

Original version of this post appears on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/do-you-believe-serendipity-loh-ching-soo/

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