Talking tech: FSN’s Conradi on tech culture
Click here to revisit part one of our mini series in which Conradi discusses digital roles
The Drawdown (TDD): Lots of PE houses have legacy systems, which can cause friction when upgrading to new tech. What challenges have you come across when it comes to improving the IT infrastructure at FSN?
Christopher Conradi (CC): Having worked at the likes of Google and IBM, I’ve seen various examples since joining PE, where the industry is 20-years behind. I did have concerns when I joined FSN that it would take about three years to get our firm to current tech, but FSN was ahead of the game. Before I started, the team had already started moving their files to the Public Cloud.
I think it’s been easier for us in some respects because we’re still quite a small firm so it’s simpler for us to make such a move. But there are also some very forward-thinking people at FSN that push through new technology. For me, there hasn’t been any big challenges in terms of upgrading our infrastructure, it’s been smooth so far. My only worry is that we miss the human factor; that we focus too little on training or that people don’t like using our new systems. I spend the bulk of my time making our systems feel intuitive so we don’t need training to use them.
I think the main challenge is around culture and the way people use new systems, such as sharing documents online. It’s a bit uncomfortable to start with, having other people in your unfinished document as you’re writing it, but it’s a better way of working than having several copies and losing track of the most updated. So far FSN has adapted well so I’m very proud of my team.
TDD: Improving tech is also an important way of adding value to the portfolio. How much of your digital strategy or tech systems have been implemented into portfolio companies?
CC: There’s definitely a fine balance. On one hand there’s all these really great new tech systems and processes, which make for smarter working. On the other hand, you’ve got portfolio companies with either legacy systems or reasons for doing things as they do. Your initial reaction is to go in and change everything you think needs to be fixed or replaced, but it’s a humbling process because these are very smart people and there’s usually reasons for things being the way they are.
It’s about pushing and inspiring to do change, rather than being the owner who pushes tech on a company. I spend a lot of my time trying to figure out the best way to handle this and offer something which isn’t an annoyance but actually brings value to these companies.
It might be that our portfolio companies don’t have access to something or it might not make sense for them to invest in it, such as a data analyst, for example. This is where we as an owner can make that investment, on their behalf. When I joined FSN, I stressed the importance of us having someone in this role, and as luck would have it, Vincent Wahl came along, blew us away and we both started on the same day. He goes into our portfolio companies and really gets to know them and learn what they need.
TDD: Quite often it’s the firm’s COO who deals with the technology of the firm. How do you work with FSN’s Morten Welo (partner, COO/IR), and interact with the rest of the team?
CC: Morten is a superhuman. He handles our investor relations and also does the COO role internally, so he’s working non stop. He’s great at his job but he doesn’t have much time for IT and digitalisation, so that’s where I come in.
There are a few key people at FSN, Robin Mürer, partner, who is based in Germany. He understands tech so has become the defacto technology partner. Then there’s CFO Knut Røsjorde, who used to work for a tech company before FSN. Magnus Steinsvoll Prøsch sits in the deal team and has such great knowledge he could easily have my role. Robin, Knut, Magnus and I formed what we call the Digital Committee. Within that, we meet monthly to discuss firm-wide strategies and what would affect each team, tech-wise. We then split off into our respective divisions to get feedback. Between meetings we have an extremely active Slack channel we use to communicate constantly.
I also created a more informal group, a “Digital Hub” of tech-interested employees as points of contact when I have questions regarding desktop tests or new software, but they’re involved on an adhoc basis. In a way I think this group is more important than our formal group because it’s where I get the most honest feedback.
TDD: What interactions do you have with the firm’s LPs?
CC: My interaction has been quite limited so far because I’ve not been with FSN that long. I got to speak at our AGM, which was well received by our LPs and triggered lots of questions and ideas. I also assist with the operational due diligence processes as tech is a hot topic for that now, and I’ve presented at most of our seminars, so I have ongoing touchpoints with our LPs.
TDD: What is your plan for the next 12 months within your role?
CC: When I started at FSN, I made a list of all the things I want to achieve here, such as implement a brand-new CRM system, which would take about a year, and smaller tasks which would only take an hour.
I think the Coronavirus outbreak changes how we’re thinking, what we’re tracking and what resources we have available at the moment, so it’s hard to tell what the next 12 months will look like.
However, I do think there is a big focus on data, like I mentioned earlier. Cybersecurity is another big one. I think the whole industry tends to be a bit too relaxed about it. If one firm gets hacked or if there’s a data breach, it’s bad for the whole industry. So I want to do something that gets us thinking more like a tech company in that respect.
There are some things happening around our CRM which I’ll be looking at in relation to the data strategy we have. I also want to model how we do our process and standardise it all so we have a much smoother operation.
Lastly, I want to expand on our collaboration because I think we can all be better with video conferencing, for example, when we’re in remote meetings. This requires working more on the culture and how we interact, so I’m working on a few ideas so we’ll hopefully have some fun along the way.