Features

Sarah Litchney – NTT Global Data Centers

Legal: The guardians of a growing data center company

In the past few years, the worldwide growth in the data center industry has been a boon to companies like NTT Global Data Centers. That means the organization needs people like Assistant General Counsel Sarah Litchney, whose responsibilities include the constant review and revision of legal contracts related to the construction of on-the-ground clouds.

NTT Global Data Centers Americas has built over a dozen data centers of various sizes in the U.S. and is growing and adding more as quickly as it can procure the land and power needed to make that happen. It provides the buildings, cooling systems, power and security to clients who chose an NTT Global Data Center as the place to store their or their client’s information.

Sarah Litchney | Assistant General Counsel | NTT Global Data Centers

Sarah Litchney | Assistant General Counsel | NTT Global Data Centers

Data centers and data storage are two of the fastest-growing areas in industrial technology, and to keep up with demand, NTT has worked fast to hire talent and find increasingly rare real estate.

“We are leasing out our buildings years ahead of them being built in order to meet demand,” Litchney says.

Litchney says being under the larger global Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corporation based in Tokyo provides the strategic advantage of global contracting across the different NTT entities throughout the world.

“We are able to do this in almost every region and country of the world that NTT serves for colocation services and are working on finalizing for all,” she adds. “This involves constantly revamping and enhancing our internal and global contract process to unite the NTT entities, which has been one of the main focuses of my legal team the past couple of years.”

Serving the data protectors

One reason the business is booming is that companies need increasingly additional capacity to store their data. A smaller business may use NTT to store human resources information, like payroll and timesheets, while a larger one may need extensive servers to handle international client information, client data, social media data, AI data, vendor contracts and more.

Providing data storage is more complicated than it sounds due to data privacy rules and regulations present not just at the country level but also at the city and state levels. So, introducing contract templates was even more complicated, Litchney says, especially as the client base began growing and her legal department grew in the last year from three attorneys and an admin to six attorneys and three paralegals.

Sarah Litchney | Assistant General Counsel | NTT Global Data Centers

“The contract system had to mature to match the company’s growing needs,” she recalls.

Then, working with colleagues from the Americas, Asia Pacific, Europe, Middle East, Africa and India, Litchney and her U.S. colleagues have created global contracts templates—a process that is ongoing.

Many of these templates cover long-term agreements between NTT and their clients, leaving room for adjustments based on region for any variances in services offered.

Smoother, more efficient requests

Post-acquisition, Litchney also had to update live contracts, those already completed and signed. The end dates of these contracts could be many years in the future, and they required modifications and updates before that time.

Many of these contracts were long-term master services agreements with renewal options based on the original contract. So, when updating these existing client contracts to current industry standards, she and her team focused on renegotiating crucial terms for the business, including risk items. In some cases, this meant a shift in the relationship between NTT and the client with the latter taking on more risk instead of the full responsibility falling on NTT’s shoulders.

To manage contracts with the hundreds of vendors—think general contractors to energy and fuel suppliers—at each location, she and her team implemented a vendor management system with updated legal contracts that had to tie in and comply with global NTT playbooks and contracting policies as well. She says thus far it has already helped streamline processes, allowing purchasing and individual data center facilities to more quickly onboard vendors.

“We went from a ‘mom and pop type’ local data center company to a global company with a huge footprint and outreach, so that comes with some growing pains and additional responsibilities,” she says. “But I feel we’ve been managing the transition and associated growth extremely well, and we are excited about the future.”

Bedrooms, courtrooms and classrooms

Litchney credits her diverse educational and career background for giving her an extra edge at NTT Global Data Centers. She graduated from Cornell University with a Bachelor of Science and earned a Juris Doctor from the University of Pacific’s McGeorge School of Law with a focus on intellectual property law. She planned on becoming a patent law attorney and was eligible to sit for the patent bar, however her plans changed, and her focus was more on work/life balance—she married her college boyfriend in the middle of law school and was nine months pregnant when she was sworn into the California bar.

Instead of joining a corporate law firm, she settled with her new family in the Folsom, California, area and at 26 years old, started her own firm and real estate brokerage, which she ran as the managing attorney and broker for over 12 years.

Sarah Litchney | Assistant General Counsel | NTT Global Data Centers

After selling off a part of her law firm to another local firm and transitioning down the remaining practice, she joined GVM Law in Napa, California, as senior legal counsel. The firm served many of the region’s major and smaller wineries and its attorneys acted as in-house counsel for those businesses. It was a perfect fit for her, not just because she enjoys wine but because she majored in food science and biotechnology as an undergraduate.

In April 2020, after being contacted by a recruiter who felt she was a great fit, Litchney joined NTT Global Data Centers as senior legal counsel. She was promoted to assistant general counsel two years later.

She hasn’t stopped learning, either, and is currently pursuing her executive master’s in business administration and management at Quantic School of Business and Technology. She anticipates graduating with her eMBA in March 2024.

“At work, at school or in my personal life, I’m always looking to encourage other women and show them through example that not only do they belong in technology, science, accounting and other traditionally male-dominated arenas, but that we can be successful in them,” Litchney says. “I’m delighted that I get to share that outlook with others on a global scale through my work at NTT.”

View this feature in the Vanguard Summer I 2023 Edition here.

Published on: June 6, 2023

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