Ergo is one of Ireland’s leading IT service providers. In this IMI interview, Ergo CEO John Purdy shares insights into his approach to developing leadership and talent within a fast-changing business.
How important is leadership to Ergo’s growth?
It’s everything. If we’re going to require of people that they work hard, then we’ve got to work hard. The other day, I got up at 5.30am to go to London with four colleagues for a meeting, and I pulled into my driveway at 10pm that night. I don’t expect other people to do that and me not to. We’ve got to bring all of the team with us. It’s certainly not a style within Ergo where the pressure is passed down. There’s more pressure on my management team than on anybody else in the business.
When you think about talent, what stands out most for you?
In our canteen, there’s a chart tracking the changes since we started 23 years ago, with the milestones of big customer wins, technology shifts or acquisitions. We never settle on our laurels. So, the people we hire have to be used to constant change. Although you hire for domain expertise, I would prefer someone joining the business with aligned DNA than being the best expert in their domain.
We refreshed our values 18 months ago and developed the idea of One Ergo, where there are no heroes and no villains. If we’re going after a piece of work, we all go together. I describe it as five of us jumping out of an aeroplane but we only have one parachute.
What prompted you to work on leadership development throughout Ergo?
In 2007, Enterprise Ireland approached me to go on the Leadership 4 Growth programme at Stanford. That was a defining programme for us. It gave us the confidence we needed to be a scaled organisation, and gave us some of the toolsets we needed. I saw the benefits. Our CFO then went on the programme and we started to bring principle that right down throughout the organisation.
What are the challenges in developing leadership in the business?
In our next layer of leadership, we want to take people who are very good in a specific domain and give them skills in other domains. For example, we might have someone in the finance department and take them to running customer operations. When we identify that we don’t have those skills in-house, we might look to recruit someone, but the first port of call is always to look internally.
What other programmes have you worked on, and what impact have they had?
Last year, we created a programme called the Ergo Academy in conjunction with the academic staff of the Irish Management Institute and our senior team. We take 13 high-potential people to see are they the next layer of leaders within the organisation. They’re given three projects where they have to deliver a proposition on by the end of the programme. These aren’t just academic exercises. One of the projects involved our original print business, which is still a substantial percentage of our overall revenue.
For a very long time, we spent a considerable amount on management training and with good benefit, but we felt if we diverted some of that training into aligning with our business objectives, that we might get a better result.
What advice would you give to businesses looking to develop their leadership talent and pipeline?
There are lots of examples where companies think they own the market and three years later, they’re gone. We’ve always got to refresh our proposition and the value we bring to our customers, and the skillsets that we apply to our people; there has to be a very detailed training plan and career path for people.
Large companies like CRH or Kerry tend to have programmes like this, but an owner-managed business of our size probably doesn’t have a model like that. Smaller organisations tend to be quite informal about it, but getting the right level of formality is important. It’s also important to bring people on a journey and understand what their requirements are from a skillset and career progression perspective.
The thing that gives me most satisfaction is where I see people who have taken an opportunity, and deliver on it.
How do you gauge that this investment in leadership is paying off?
My successor is already in the building.
John Purdy is the CEO of Ergo.
Having co-founded Ergo 23 years ago, John has made Ergo one of Ireland’s most successful IT companies, transitioning the firm from focusing on the sale of IT commodities to a cloud and IT managed service provider to multinational customers.
The IMI Tailored Solutions team have worked with Ergo on creating their Ergo Academy which is focused on developing the next layer of leaders within Ergo.