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Obituary: CIO Graham Benson 1966 – 2018

The CIO community has this month lost one of its great characters. Graham Benson, recently CIO for Rentalcars.com passed away in the early hours of February 6th and will be laid to rest on February 28th.

Benson and I last spoke in November 2017 as the easy going CIO was wrapping up three years at Rentalcars.com, he said he was planning on “taking some time for himself” before getting stuck-in with the startup community, something Benson had always relished.  Sadly that time to himself was all too short. Benson had been fighting cancer for some time.

Alongside busy CIO roles Benson was Chairman of the Board at Manchester Digital, the industry group for the thriving city that had played a key part in his career.  Recording last year’s podcast on Manchester was typical of my experience of working with Benson, he provided thought provoking analysis that broke through buzzwords and offered useful guidance for all concerned. As a journalist he corrected my misinterpretations in a gentle way that ensured the story was accurate and useful to its wider audience. There was never any ego with Benson, he just focused on ensuring everyone got the best out of themselves and every opportunity. He never used the events and stories as platforms for brand Benson, as his commitment to Manchester Digital demonstrated, he was always focused on the wider picture.

Benson’s business technology leadership career was varied, with roles in tourism at Thomas Cook, property with Regus, retail at Screwfix and M&M Direct and gaming.  A passionate a deep technologist who proudly had an original Apple Mac in the corner of his Manchester office, Benson was also a pioneer in people management.

“It’s about engaging your colleagues,” he told me on one of our regular catch ups. “I genuinely believe that people come to work to be successful and happy. They don’t want to come to work, be miserable and fail. If we can free people to be creative, they will have the ideas then we need to ensure that we follow through on them.”

He threw himself into creating a great environment for teams to work, he embraced new methods of working, and cajoled teams to ‘go to the pub’ and talk through some of their challenges. At Rentalcars.com he loved taking you on a tour of the themed breakout areas, including a Star Wars room, fitting for a CIO born on the 4th of May.

At online retailer M&M Direct Benson got the entire business to become customers and testers using Smarties sweets, anyone in the business who found an error or had suggestions for improvements received a personal letter from the CEO and CIO thanking them for their insight and a gift of a pack of Smarties.

“There is no better mix than the people that work for you.

“I am passionate about people, culture and the science of Neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) so I seek inspiration from psychology texts as well as psychology blogs as well as tech articles in order to drive effective change; at the end of the day, change comes from the heart not the head,” Benson told me in 2014.

Benson will be missed by the CIO community, peers on this title’s WhatsApp group have shared shock and appreciation for the great work he did.

Graham Benson’s chosen charity was Melanoma UK, which his family would welcome donations to in Graham’s memory, they say melanoma “is a vastly under funded cancer, despite being one of the most aggressive”. You can donate at www.melanomauk.org.uk/donations/

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