Who’s Answering the Next Big Question? CIO Guy Mason of Bourne Leisure

Community Blog
Written by Drew Lazzara

MAY 12, 2021

During each episode of the Next Big Question podcast, we speak with executives and thought leaders about a big, timely business question. In this episode, Liz Ramey and I spoke with Guy Mason, chief information officer at Bourne Leisure and founding director of Digital Decision, where he works closely with private equity firms to drive value through technology. We asked Guy: What can private-equity M&A teach leaders about technology value?

As Guy points out in our conversation, there are clear distinctions between the way private equity views “value” and the way traditional organizations do. He sees these distinctions primarily as a function of focus and velocity, but he also thinks that the different approaches are beginning to converge. Traditional organizations are increasingly embracing agility, seeking opportunity to transform more quickly and defining every technology investment in straightforward value terms.  

Throughout our episode, Guy reflects on this convergence and the ways private equity and traditional businesses can learn from one another. Here, he discusses some of the factors that impede the velocity of change in typical organizations and how private equity firms think about speed differently.

The natural risk aversion outside of private equity and the willingness to look much longer-term rather than near-term delivery – I think that’s gone. Many companies wouldn’t have survived the COVID process if they weren’t willing to take risks. And that’s particularly true in technology.”


Guy Mason: 

“I would say that nostalgia is one of the biggest drags on velocity. This is a comment not just on business strategy and approach, but on the technology as well. Technologists, particularly, love the things that technologists have done in the past as part of their history. Small personal anecdote: someone I used to work with 20 years ago rang me and said he’s maintaining a bit of code and he saw there were comments in the code that I modified 20 years ago… And, do you know, that made me feel really good, but in practice, I should look at that and say, “That’s horrible! We’ve clearly not moved that business forward in 20 years!” And the wish to hang onto the ways things have been done and always done, I think, is much stronger in “normal business” than it is in private equity, and I think that will be something that will change fairly quickly over time.

I think the other thing is the willingness to take risks. And I do mean risks, not gambles. I think that willingness in private equity is much stronger than in other businesses. Even though we talk about a typical private equity as an ownership of five years, in practice, if you’re going to do any big transformation tech change, you’ve got to get it done in the first two years. And then lose the costs it will help you take out and you won’t have the capital costs of change, in order to make the next two to three years really good from a financial performance perspective. We talk about five years [in private equity] being like five years in a normal business, but in practice, I think the pace will always be higher in private equity. 

I think private equity is also much more willing to break dependence on things and try it, but the bottom line is, it’s about focus on outcome. You know, [something like] tech debt is only bad if you don’t recognize it and you don’t know how to deal with it. I think PE is much happier to say, ‘Well, this will deliver the outcome. It’s probably not ideal from a tech point of view; we’ll have to fix it later.’ But they’re much more willing to do that than the rather traditional CIO approach, where purity of technology and conformance with standards and the methodological approach that’s been drummed into most of us technologists for some time. They’re really, really important, and they are great for risk reduction, but not brilliant for pace.”  

Listen to the full episode of The Next Big Question featuring Guy Mason from Evanta, a Gartner Company here, or on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or your favorite podcast app

To find a local community of your CIO peers, visit evanta.com/cio.

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Drew Lazzara

Sr Content Manager at Evanta, a Gartner Company

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