Having recently spoken to a number of influential figures in the finance sector, AI Business was excited to hear from Carolyn Lees, Global IT Director at international private equity firm Permira.
With a career in IT spanning more than 25 years, Carolyn offers a hugely authoritative voice from the industry. She has varied experience in IT across several sectors – prior to joining Permira in 2005 she was IT Director at an international law firm, and she has held senior technical management positions in Hilton International and Avis Europe.
Carolyn’s responsibilities stretch across IT strategy, operations as well as security at Permira, so we were very interested in finding out her thoughts about the impact AI is having now, and will have in the future – not only at Permira, but in the IT and business world as a whole.

Carolyn Lees permira

Carolyn Lees of Permira


“Constantly evolving deep learning will have different impacts on different organisations”, Carolyn predicts. “Those that are consumer facing with strong e-commerce interfaces, for instance, will have high returns on their investment in AI technology.

“Learning to use customer data intelligently in an interactive and sales promoting/customer service way will speed up the revenue cycle, due to more accurate and wider customer profiling. AI data (once properly validated) will, overall, drive greater efficiency both in general and in diverse contexts, such as medicinal diagnostics or economic forecasting.”


There are, of course, challenges to the implementation and adoption of AI within business, and Carolyn makes this clear.

“The fast pace of AI development is spurring companies on to look at what is out there that can be used: Bigger organisations may become laggards due to their size, and some organisations may be rooted in cultures that are traditionally slower to adopt new technology, let alone AI capabilities.”

The belief in the potential of AI is there, though, and Carolyn insists that it is widespread: “Talk to most people over a drink and they will see opportunities for AI in their organisations, but big groups can be difficult to move.  The opportunities of AI – as with technology in general – have to be understood and supported top down.”

 So the main challenge? “Having key people that can drive and influence change, that have their eye on comparative industries and can nudge their own organisations forward.”

More fundamental challenges are the validation of AI – if its adoption is high risk. Take automated driving: how do we know when we have reached a safe point of validating that the technology works? Then consider the recent Tesla car accident”.

Another fundamental challenge is the management of data within the confines of data protection.  I can see lawyers rubbing their hands in anticipation of lawsuits”.


Carolyn attended The AI Summit in London on 5 May, so we also took the time to reflect on her experience of the event and how it will affect the business strategy at Permira going forward.

“The event showed that AI now has real momentum. I feed back what I see to the portfolio team here. Making sure that they stay informed is a good start. Not everybody is a technologist so it’s not something that everyone reads up about, but every organisation these days is a technology company, so everything that happens in the AI space is relevant across the portfolio. Keeping an eye on how things are changing is important.”


Given the enormity of this potential change, we were keen to find out what Carolyn’s thoughts were on the future of an AI-enabled private equity industry.

“The investment decision-making in the industry itself is driven by historical data, current market conditions and subjective predictions. Linking and contextualising these elements over time will no doubt increase decision making agility and change outcomes.”

“All that said, in data terms the output of everything is only as good as the input, and the ability to deep learn will vary across industries and organisations.”

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Carolyn also considers how AI could be adopted within Permira specifically:

“Within the company itself, AI could provide great enhanced predictive analytics. Scenario planning is useful for us in terms of acquisitions and exits, and if that were based on AI, that would positively drive in/divestment decisions.



We spoke to Carolyn after she attended the inaugural AI Summit in London on 5 May. The second, larger AI Summit takes place in San Francisco on 28-29 September. To find out more, and to join us at the Fort Mason Center in September, visit: theaisummit.com


AI Summit San Fran print screen


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