Profile: Brian Mason, BC Partners
The Drawdown (TDD): You made the move to BC Partners following two years at Schroders Capital. What prompted the change?
Brian Mason (BM): Schroders and BC Partners were both pivotal moments in my career, the former as the beginning of my PE journey and the latter as my arrival.
Schroders was a fantastic experience and provided the opportunity to move away from investment banking to private equity, and from a large corporate environment to a more entrepreneurial culture.
After two years I was ready for a new challenge, and that’s when BC Partners approached me. Every conversation I had felt incredibly open and honest as we discussed shared visions, market developments and the impact I could make in transforming their business.
In the end, this positive experience is what led me to make the move and it’s felt like home ever since.
TDD: What does your first year at the firm look like in review?
BM: It’s surpassed my expectations. It started with a mammoth handover. My predecessor had been here for a decade, leaving the organisation in an excellent position, so with big shoes to fill, it was challenging to step in while not causing too much disruption.
I took a slow approach, ensuring people felt comfortable with the way I work and fostering a collegiate culture.
Overall, it has been great and I’m so proud of what we have achieved. Personally, a flourishing team is my biggest success and we have already grown during my first year.
On the deliverables side, we rolled out a data platform that provides automated reporting for our PE partners, CFOs and investor relations teams. We also implemented an order management system and migrated our entire CRM.
Lastly, we have rolled out a communications monitoring tool. The SEC is very focused on appropriate channels of communication right now and it's important for us to stay compliant.
TDD: You reference your team – how important is the human aspect of your role?
BM: Immensely, as even the tech side of PE is people-driven. When I started at BC Partners, I needed to earn the partners’ trust and reassure them that hiring me was the right decision. Equally, I had to convince the technology teams upfront that I would be a leader they could rely on.
Here is where my investment banking experience came in handy. In the beginning I had to illustrate the journey I wanted to set the firm on, what it would entail and how we would reach the destination. In that process, I had to communicate to everyone what I would rely on them for and which decisions I would need them to make, as we set sail on that trajectory.
Skills like reading a room, understanding the nuances of human interactions, simple things such as subtle differences in phrasing are all necessary to succeed in this – and investment banking was a great teacher.
Of course in the end you need to deliver on the outcomes promised, but you cannot make these promises if no one is listening to you.
And on delivery, again, you will face human challenges. While a lot of work in PE is still comparatively manual, implementing new software tools will be a challenge in any industry. So rather than antagonising everyone by pushing for the sake of it, I implemented what we call a ‘pull’ approach.
Across the firm we have a ‘heads of functions’ group, which provides each of us with insight into the whole firm. Within this group and with my colleagues, I make it clear that the tech division is a partner that is here to listen. I typically ask questions like ‘Tell me what outcomes you aim to achieve?’, or ‘What solution would you like to see?’; and then I would commit to building a tool that would ultimately assist in their aspirations and make their lives easier.
This approach lets me move with the pace of the business and adjust our tech to the speed at which we progress. But such a harmony is only possible if I am included in the core decision-making processes that allow me the fundamental understanding I need to successfully carry this out.
TDD: How important is your role in the firm’s decision-making process?
BM: BC Partners and I both hold the belief that heads of technology should have a seat at the partners’ table. Our world has become so digital, so tech-driven, that the role is fundamental to any business and its operations.
My remit spans from the plug sockets in the wall over the cables connecting them to infrastructure, to our helpdesk, cybersecurity and leading digital transformation across all functions of the business.
Let’s take the obvious one, cybersecurity, as an example. As we deploy investors’ money, its safety and security are a fundamental aspect of our reputation. Similarly, portfolio companies that come to us for funding are looking for a backing partner that provides stability and security to them. Safeguarding data of investors and entrepreneurs plays a fundamental role in each relationship.
But it goes further than that – let’s look at regulation. Compliance is a real risk factor and can only be demonstrated if we have the data transparency and leniency in place. My team and I ensure that we stay compliant by facilitating this transparency, leniency and access to it by relevant stakeholders so they can take it further.
Few people in any organisation will have the same 360-degree view on data as a head of technology but data fundamentally informs every decision we make. So, while there are obvious areas where I have to manage risks, my work touches every aspect of the firm, which is why it is crucial for me to be included in the core decision-making process.
TDD: Co-sourcing versus outsourcing versus building in-house – what is your approach?
BM: Probably ‘agnostic’. Again, I want to solve real problems instead of pushing tech for the sake of it. Everything is evaluated on a flexible case-
by-case basis. We assess the best approach for the firm while being mindful of the current landscape we operate in.
Generally speaking however, we operate a cloud-first strategy and a buy-not-build approach. This allows us to remain lean and stable as an organisation, instead of overstaffing for particular projects, which might cause problems later down the line.
TDD: What’s on the development roadmap for the next 12 months?
BM: More transformation. We just spent the last 12 months implementing our data platform but that is primarily in startup mode. Purposefully so, because we were demonstrating its worth. But now it’s really time to industrialise it, keep the momentum and provide real-time analytics for the firm.
In line with our pull approach, it's important to then culturally cement it into the firm’s operations. The same applies to our data strategy and our CRM, which we just launched in early February.
Overall, the goal is to provide a scalable technology solution that matches the firm’s growth trajectory.
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Mason recalls a personal challenge from his early days at BC Partners: “A big challenge when I transitioned from investment banking to private equity was the size of the team. Corporate houses have a large number of people, which offers a certain level of protection. Now, in a much smaller PE firm, you are and feel a much higher sense of exposure and personal responsibility towards delivering to the partnership to drive strategic goals and in supporting the whole team from the bottom up. I am confident in my ability to do the job but I needed to adjust my corporate mindset in this new environment before I could get started on other projects.”
He goes on to share how he climbed this personal mountain: “In the beginning I just focused on what I enjoy, which is building high-performance teams, evolving culture by bringing people on the journey and delivering on it. This really helped me in overcoming the challenge of being the new guy and taking my place behind the steering wheel.”