From Silicon Valley to Shanghai

Scalability, sustainability, and, most importantly, a healthy dose of cultural sensitivity give Ed Pate the upper hand in SanDisk’s facilities management

Ed Pate got his start managing real estate for the US Department of Defense. His career took him all over Asia and to several firms before he landed at SanDisk.
Ed Pate got his start managing real estate for the US Department of Defense. His career took him all over Asia and to several firms before he landed at SanDisk.

Texas native, Ed Pate freely admits that he “didn’t experience much in the way of cultural diversity” growing up, but his insular life was abruptly upended when he graduated high school and signed up for the Navy. He was later stationed on an aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf, and next came Japan, where he continued to serve for more than a decade while getting his start in the field of facilities management.

He has worked in a multitude of other countries since then, including, by his count, at least 25 business trips to India over the past 11 years. Some were for previous employers such as VMWare, Inc. and Amazon.com, Inc., and others were for SanDisk Corporation, where he currently serves as director of facilities operations. From the beginning, though, he declined offers to have an experienced project manager assisting him, so it’s safe to say he has become well versed in the art of appreciating what he doesn’t necessarily understand. Color schemes, bad-luck symbols, days of local significance—Pate not only designs facilities around such cultural differences but has also developed an admirable touch with the various cultural parties that he must work with, particularly overseas.

“It’s hard to open up a facility using a cookie-cutter approach,” he says, and he cites a recent project in India as an example. “[The client] wanted to use bright, some [in American culture] might consider garish colors—restrooms with bright yellow walls, bright orange, and things like that. But, in this instance, these colors were of cultural significance to the local employees.”

Pate got his start on that aircraft carrier in Japan, learning the basics of marine engineering, and soon after he took on a series of naval assignments managing funds and building new facilities across the Land of the Rising Sun. He then spent five more years in Japan, managing real estate facility assets for the US Department of Defense, before eventually seizing an opportunity to build out multiple facilities across two continents as the senior real estate manager for what was then a rapidly expanding VMWare. He ultimately saw the company’s portfolio increase from a pre-IPO level of 500,000 square feet to a post-IPO level of more than two million square feet, and along the way he reinvested in his education, picking up a BS in management from the University of Maryland, an MS in educational leadership from Troy State University, and an MBA from San Francisco State University.

“You have to keep employees happy because the people that come to work [in the tech industry] really do have their choice of companies to go to.”

Ed Pate, Director of Facilities Operations

A few years later, he served as the senior real estate and facilities manager for Amazon Lab 126, and he was there as the Kindle and Kindle Fire were first rolling out. The time was ripe to construct multiple facilities throughout Asia as Foxconn (the Asia-based manufacturer) took over production of the devices, so Pate logged many weeks in China, seeing the project through. “I actually built a rather large facility, with labs and everything, within the confines of the Foxconn factory,” he says. “That was the first third-party office with labs that was built within confines. It let us work collaboratively with Foxconn and other partners to develop new products for Amazon, and it let Amazon get products to the market a little faster, based on that model.”

Not all the companies in Pate’s career were thriving during his tenure with them, but he feels that this only strengthened his skills. “When I worked for Ariba [a software and information-technology services company], it wasn’t actually doing that great, so I was very mindful of every dollar I spent and having to make every penny count,” he says. “I think it’s important to work in a lot of different models so [that] you can handle what’s happening, regardless of what the economy tosses your way.”

His diverse background has also helped him understand how to handle particular companies’ needs. In making the move to computer-software/storage giant SanDisk in the spring of 2013, for example, he adapted by taking the global, all-encompassing management experience he’d gained with other employers and trading it for “laser focus”—something he believed to be very important to SanDisk at the time.

“It was really critical to be able to scale the offerings to coincide with the tremendous employee growth rate here,” Pate says. “What I’ve learned at other companies is that if you don’t properly scale and put processes in place that are going to be sustainable, you’ll be crushed. It’s like a tidal wave coming over you; if you’re not prepared, you’re just going to be engulfed.”

With his two decades of Silicon Valley experience, Pate is keeping SanDisk afloat as it expands, and he’s even bringing home some of the cultural concepts he learned in India, China, Japan, Israel, and elsewhere as his company continues to add to its US facilities. High employee retention rates suggest he and his team are
succeeding in their task.

“You have to keep employees happy because the people that come to work [in the tech industry] really do have their choice of companies to go to,” Pate says. “So, the bar is set pretty high for us, but we can show our value by providing good services and making employees feel this company cares about them.”