Like fine wine and cyclists, technologists get better with age.
When I read Anthony Malakian’s cover story this month on Sands Capital Management’s Ryan Bateman, it immediately took me back to a time, some 25 years ago, when I firmly believed that hard work and commitment could more than compensate for a lack of experience. That is not an uncommon perspective, coming from a callow 20-year-old male, full of testosterone, attitude and dreams of immortality.
Back then, the cycling bug had bitten me, to the extent that my entire existence was pretty much intertwined with cycling: I managed a bike shop, I raced whenever I could, and when I wasn’t racing or working, I was training, eating or sleeping—and dreaming of immortality.
My training partner and I would often encounter ex-pros—cyclists in their early 40s who had, in the past, been paid to ride a bike every day of their lives, but who now rode purely for pleasure. Anyone who has cycled competitively will acknowledge the ever-present, seminal role played by one’s ego, where, for example, “shelling” riders on a hill or “putting them in the gutter” in a strong cross wind, is particularly pleasurable. During our regular meetings with ex-pros, we would do whatever it took to show them that they were well and truly past it and that now the young bucks ruled the roads.
Needless to say, it wasn’t long before we were disabused of that notion, but that didn’t stop us from trying to demonstrate our superiority at every opportunity. It was a case of million-dollar bodies and five-cent brains—ex-professionals, it turns out, are wily old foxes, who have learned to suffer on a bike. So too had they learned when to ride hard and when to sit up; they seemed to know intuitively when to let a break go up the road and when to pull it back; and they knew how to hide in a bunch and save their energy.
Experience, like that illustrated by battle-hardened ex-professional cyclists, is a hugely valuable commodity in every walk of life. The technology realm of the capital markets industry is no different, especially when it comes to determining returns on investments—one such challenge that Sands Capital’s Bates is currently grappling with. Top CIO aren’t necessarily those who work the longest hours or are the most committed to the firm’s cause; they’re the ones who instinctively and consistently make the right decisions with respect to planning and managing technology and operational projects. And it is this uncanny ability to make the right decision at the right times, molded to a large degree by experience, that makes calculating positive returns on investments possible, a prerequisite for any top CIO.
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