Simon Payne, CEO of IT managed services firm CSI, talks to Rachel Bridge at Drax about understanding technology and private equity, and his role in bringing the two together
Simon Payne initially planned to pursue a career in construction management, but when he worked for a large construction company as part of his university degree he decided to change direction towards technology instead.
It has turned out to be a smart move. After learning the ropes of the industry, Simon joined Touchbase, an IT business, as Managing Partner. He spent three years in Australia overseeing the business expansion before returning to the UK to take up his first CEO role, driving Touchbase’s expansion in Europe and the US.
Next Simon became Director of Global Services at Damovo, a communications and managed IT supplier. It was his first experience of working for a company with private equity backing. Over a five-year period Simon and the rest of the management team completely turned the business around, culminating in a two-part sale of Damovo to both Oakley Capital and the Daisy Group.
With experience of both private equity and selling a business under his belt, Simon took up the role of interim Chief Commercial Officer at Timico, a managed cloud service provider. His directive was to help sell the business and it was successfully acquired by Lyceum in 2017. It was later that same year that Simon became CEO of CSI, an Enterprise Performance Partner providing IT managed services, with PE backing from MML.
CSI uses technology to help businesses grow, save, innovate and protect their data and reputation from harm.
Simon says: “In our marketplace lots of people try to bamboozle their clients by talking about technology and making things sound overly complicated, but the technology is just an engine for transformation. It is about understanding what clients are trying to achieve as a business and then delivering an appropriate solution to meet their desired business outcomes.”
He is clearly enjoying the challenges his role brings, saying: “I very much thrive in businesses that have the potential for high growth, so what really attracted me about CSI was that it had grown both organically and inorganically through acquisition over a number of years. It appeared to be a perfect platform for growth. I was in the right market at the right time with the capability to really push it onto the next level. I thrive on what a business can become, and that is the potential I saw with CSI.”
Because of his previous experience, Simon is very comfortable with having a PE investor on board. He explains the relationship with MML, the PE house, like this: “It is about having a very open and honest relationship which is mutually supportive and in which everybody understands what skills and energy they bring to the party. Like any business model, you have clearly agreed business objectives and do everything possible to drive towards them. As long as you have complete alignment, it should be a very good relationship.”
He offers this advice to CEOs who are considering bringing in a PE investor: “You need to really understand the different PE houses and what each one will be looking for, because all PE houses want to look at slightly different things. Work out which one will complement your skills and methods of working to ensure a very supportive relationship. The most important thing for a successful PE relationship is to really make sure that your objectives and the PE house’s objectives are completely aligned to achieve a balanced boardroom.”
Simon unwinds by going running with his dog Bruno or mountain biking with his twin sons. But although he works long hours, the real secret is to work smarter, not harder, he says: "It is about really understanding which actions are going to make a difference and drive the business forward, and avoid getting distracted by the things that won’t.”
Drax sector lead: Ruby Sheera
Partner, Technology and Tech-enabled businesses
Tel: 0203 949 9555