What I've Learnt: Stephen O'Brien, Founder & CEO at PTG

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Stephen O’Brien is the Founder and CEO of Leeds-based IT services and solutions provider, Pure Technology Group (PTG).

PTC is a leading provider of ICT services and solutions to the SME, corporate and public sectors. It provides a range of solutions to clients, consulting to find the services they really need then designing, deploying and supporting on the most useful products.

Their clients include Betfred, Iceland, the RSPB and the Royal Opera House. We sat down with Stephen to learn about his experiences and what they taught him.

Which single daily habit or practice could you not do without?

It has to be exercise. It’s good for both the mind and body and helps to keep you sane when life gets a little hectic.

Aside from that though, a daily dose of caffeine is a must - for me, a strong espresso is the perfect way to kickstart any day!

What's been your luckiest break?

Now, this sounds cheesy, but it has to be starting the business - back in 2007 - with a special group of people that took a risk to join me on this journey, right from day one. I’m happy to say that they are all still with the company today, and it’s great to see the firm thriving because of everyone’s collaborative efforts and commitment to achieving the shared PTG vision.

What's your best failure?

Merging two businesses - startups - that, culturally, came from complete opposite sides of the planet!

I learnt a lot from that experience and it set the tone for the great firm I have today. I learnt a lot about team culture, plus creating a ‘winning’ environment and mindset - all of which are the foundations that PTG is built upon.

What is the best investment you've ever made, either financial or time?

This one’s easy, it has to be the investment - both personal and professional - in our people. 

In order to build and maintain a successful organisation, your people need to feel happy and fulfilled - and that’s what our culture and values are centred around here at PTG. We were recently awarded the Investors in People (IIP) platinum standard - this highest level of accreditation, held only by 0.05% of IIP-certified companies.

Receiving this prestigious accolade speaks volumes for the time, effort and financial commitment we have attributed to developing our workforce.

How would you describe your work/life balance?

There isn’t one! Work is my hobby, passion, dream and nightmare - all rolled into one. That said, I absolutely love what I do, the people I work with, the customers we serve and the daily challenges all of that brings.

It’s safe to say that my mobile is never too far away.

Which book would you recommend others to read and why?

For me, it’s ‘Winning’ by Clive Woodward.

It’s a book about building a rugby team, but it’s based on the key business principles - culture, teamwork, individual ownership and collective responsibility - we put into practice at PTG. It’s a very inspirational read, with lots of points for reflection - it’s one of the best management books I’ve ever read.

What one piece of advice would you give your 21‐year‐old self?

Slow down and enjoy the moment. Life is so fast-paced that the days fly by in the blink of an eye, so it’s vital to take your foot off the accelerator every so often and just enjoy the ride.

Also, another important one is not to be afraid to make mistakes; remember that somebody always has something to teach you and that life is one big opportunity to learn - you only improve your skillset and knowledge by committing errors and learning from them.

And finally, never, ever give in. If you have the dedication and the drive to reach your goals, you’ll get there - just don’t give yourself a time limit!

Who or what has had the single biggest influence on your working life?

A man called Jon Crabtree. He has been a huge father figure in my life - both personally and professionally - from my early twenties into my thirties. His guidance gave me personal stability and showed me that life could be more, plus he also instilled into me the importance of hard work, graft and determination.

I’m really grateful to Jon for never clipping my wings and allowing me to fly the nest to make my own way in life. His direction and support have been crucial in helping me get where I am today - to this day, he remains a dear friend and mentor.

Tell us something about you that would surprise people.

I’m a pretty open book and wear my heart on my sleeve. 

Although, I also once partied with P. Diddy for his 40th birthday, in Miami - that was an experience!

What does success look like to you?

I believe that success is completely subjective, but personally my motivation comes from helping others to realise their own dreams and aspirations. I’m a very people-centric person, so I try my hardest to ensure all our employees are satisfied at work - it’s about maintaining a happy workplace that is also a team and a community. 

That said, I do also have my eye on a nice villa in the South of France!