The Value of Why

Iron Mountain’s Sarah Abrams drives change while giving back to the corporate real estate industry

Photo by Tom Fallon of Tom Fallon Photography

Sarah Abrams likes to use analogies to drive home a message, particularly when making a case for change.

In coming to Iron Mountain in 2012, after successfully aligning Fidelity’s real estate team as a strategic partner to the business, the senior vice president of global real estate needed to not only create a compelling value proposition for change in the real estate function, but also articulate a road map for how to implement the change.

Sarah Abrams, Senior Vice President of Global Real Estate, Iron Mountain Mark Karlsberg/Studio Eleven

“Let’s say I know there’s going to be an earthquake in California, and I communicate to the team that we need to leave and go to New York. I’ve created a compelling value proposition about why we need to leave, but until I communicate how we are going to reach New York—plane, train, automobile—I haven’t provided the team with a road map for getting us there,” Abrams explains, emphasizing the importance of using both elements to encourage successful change. “Visions without road maps rarely get achieved.”

Abrams is a self-described “business person with a lot of real estate experience.” Having started her career working for a real estate developer before switching to corporate real estate about 10 years later, she’s amassed significant experience to become a well-respected industry thought-leader.

Abrams’s arrival at Iron Mountain provided her with an interesting set of challenges. “The real estate function was not centralized,” she recalls, adding that she was hired “not only to change the way the function operated, but to change the company-wide perception of it from tactical and reactive to a strategic business partner.”

Abrams says driving a transformation and then continuing to improve year after year has required continued evolution of her organization from both a structure and skill set perspective as Iron Mountain has added new businesses in high-end art storage and logistics, data centers, cloud offerings, and digital solutions. “I always say that corporate real estate organizations are organic and need to evolve as our business unit clients evolve,” she says. “My team’s north star is enabling Iron Mountain’s business, and I am very fortunate that they don’t miss a beat.”

Iron Mountain’s new Western Europe headquarters was designed by the London office of Stantec, with AIS Workplace serving as the GC. Photo: Tom Fallon/Tom Fallon Photography

Employing a more Boston-specific analogy in speaking about assembling her leadership team, Abrams compares the process to the success of the Red Sox in 2018. “If you think of a baseball team, I tried to operate like a good general manager,” she says. “We had a core of truly great people and after bringing in a few key outside players, we were ready to compete for the World Series.” Her continual focus on talent development and organizational adaptability has allowed her team to leverage its expertise to deliver value, control costs, and mitigate risks across Iron Mountain’s 56-country and 88MSF footprint.

Seven years in, Abrams credits the exceptional way her team functions as a cohesive and collaborative unit and their satisfaction with their work and opportunities as what bring her the most satisfaction in her role.

Photo: Tom Fallon/Tom Fallon Photography

Iron Mountain has utilized Abrams’ overall business acumen and public speaking skills by having her work closely with the commercial side of its business on various initiatives. “I’ve had the opportunity to be very engaged with our marketing teams and sales organization to make sure that we can speak authentically and compellingly when we present our specific products and services that are valuable to real estate and technology leaders,” she says. “I have very much enjoyed meeting our clients directly in one-on-one meetings or by speaking on topics important to them at customer forums.”

In addition to leading the global real estate function for Iron Mountain, Abrams devotes many hours to the profession mentoring, teaching, and developing young leaders. As a past president and board member of the New England Chapter of CoreNet Global, the professional association for the corporate real estate industry, Abrams helped found the chapter’s Young Leaders Professional Development program, a yearlong program of substantive classes, networking opportunities, and personal coaching and development.

“My team’s north star is enabling Iron Mountain’s business and I’m very fortunate that they don’t miss a beat.”

As chair of the chapter’s University Initiative, Abrams also visits college campuses in the Boston area each fall to introduce students to the corporate real estate industry and holds an adjunct faculty appointment at MIT’s Center for Real Estate where she teaches an Introduction to Corporate Real Estate course to graduate students. For her professional and industry contributions, Abrams was awarded CoreNet Global’s Executive of the Year in 2013 and received the New England Chapter’s Presidents Award in 2018.

Abrams has not let her career stand in the way of an involved family life. When her son, who is now a high school senior, was younger, she coached his baseball team, served as a room mother for his fourth grade class, and attended nearly every one of his school and AAU basketball games. She continues to encourage those who work for her to devote the time necessary to participate fully in their children’s lives.

From left to right: George Conti, Bob Schneiders, Sarah Abrams, Dan Anninos, and Doug Berry. Photo: Samuel Mathius

She says she is energized by managing her life to accommodate her family, a demanding career, leadership in her industry, and community work––such as the multimillion-dollar renovation of her synagogue that she recently led––because she loves it all. However, she dislikes the term “work/life balance,” explaining that, “the word ‘balance’ makes you think of a scale with work and life at opposite ends and only one correct point that balances everything. I prefer to think of it as a Venn diagram with ‘life’ as the big circle and ‘work’ as a smaller circle within it.

“To me that is work/life integration because work is a part of life and how you choose to integrate your work into your life impacts what you are capable of doing and contributing outside of work,” Abrams explains. “I have work that I am passionate about, a healthy, loving family, and people I respect and enjoy working with every day. I consider myself a very lucky person!”