25 years on, with multiple lessons learned, Ergo’s CEO John Purdy has a lot to look back on. In this interview, to mark Ergo’s existence for a quarter of a century, John recounts his early days of becoming an entrepreneur, the key steps in growing and scaling a global business, the importance of investing in indigenous business, and the advice his mother gave him that helped shape his career and the path he has paved for Ergo.
Q. What made you want to start your own business?
JP: There was always something in me from a very early age, a feeling that I wanted to be in control of my own destiny. I wanted to make an impact. I was encouraged by my mother not to fear failure, and I got to a stage around 1992 where my career was going very well but the company that I was working for wanted to move away from direct selling to end user customers and more selling in distribution to indirect customers, and I didn’t see that as something that was going to fulfill me. So, I decided to make my move.
Q. Why did you decide to go in to the IT industry?
JP: My initial sales job was selling photocopiers, so I think I understood document production and I understood selling, so it was an obvious thing to do to move into a printing marketplace. However, once we did this, we realised quite early that if we stuck exclusively to printing that it would become very limiting.
So, we then moved into what we termed at the time as “soft copy output” and we became the partners in Ireland for a product called Jetform. This was ultimately bought by Adobe and that brought us into professional services, software, and workflow, which created a whole new stream of activity for us. It gave us another reason for us to talk to customers, it made us sticky and it enhanced the relationship that we had with our customers and dictated that the kind of people we were employing were different, exceptional people.
Q. At what stage did you know that Ergo was going to be successful?
JP: There was a gradual build up to this, and it meant me having to make sure I was the right leader for the company before we could start to focus on how successful we would be. We started in June 1993, and in 1996 I did a two-year course in the Irish Management Institute, which gave me the tools needed to think about the importance of scaling. In 1999 I enrolled with Cranfield University in the UK. This was to see whether I was right as a senior manager to scale to the next level.
I was fortunate in 2007 to be selected by Enterprise Ireland in the second Leadership for Growth Program in Stanford and that gave me a whole new tool kit of knowledge and awareness that I needed to scale Ergo even further. This all took time, and a lot of strategising, but I think certainly when we got to the end of 2008 we felt that we could be a significant player within technology in the Irish marketplace.
Q. What have been your highlights over the last 25 years?
JP: There’s been a lot. Winning significant customers in the very early days in Managed Print, like Microsoft and Eir was an immense early highlight. We won the first Managed Print Services contract in Ireland in May 1998, with our first customer being Microsoft. This was a very significant shift in the company’s rhythm. Building a very substantial relationship with Bank of Scotland in the early 2000’s, which brought us into a lot of new spaces in technology was a monumental piece of work. This produced a €20m+ Managed Service business, and our spin-off company, Fenergo.
More recently, winning contracts with Aercap and CIE, was a game-changer for us and created a shift within in how we work. For me personally, winning Entrepreneur of the Year in 2014 was special. Having your peers recognise you as someone leading a company of significance is something I won’t forget. There’s a lot to be proud of in what we’ve done since 1993.
Q. How did you stay profitable when the crisis hit?
JP: It was a very challenging time. We made a smart decision, which I still stand by today. Instead of looking externally for help, we focused our efforts on Irish headquartered companies that were expanding abroad. We felt that if we could succeed with those companies, we had a chance of growing through the recession, which we did. In fact, we made 2 strategic acquisitions during this time, iSite and Micromail, so we used it very much to our advantage and continued to grow.
Q. So, 25 years done so far. What’s next for Ergo now?
JP: Our main goal is to continue to grow and surpass our expectations. For example, within the first quarter of this year, we have achieved revenues of €20m, which is roughly where we were in a full year in 2014, so we’re targeting an €80m+ revenue for this financial year. We have a plan to bring that to €100m by 2021, and a plan to bring that to €140m by 2025. That would be coming solely through a mixture organic growth and acquisition activity. There’s certain parts of our business we want to build up faster, so we are by no means finished the journey, in fact we feel we’re only a third way through.
Q. How important do you think it is for Ireland to progress and prosper with indigenous firms as well as multinationals?
JP: This is a really important point, and something I feel quite strongly about. I sit on the Entrepreneur Alumni Board and a sub-committee within that who are working with the government around three different areas; talent, taxation and education. Our belief is that the government needs to be giving indigenous businesses at least the same benefits as they’re giving foreign direct companies.
Clearly there’s an affordability issue around all of this, but the future of our economy is indigenous companies. The future tax take will come, in my view, from a more enlarged indigenous base and we should be implementing entrepreneurship through our education system. This is something I have been trying to encourage through sponsoring programmes like the Junior Entrepreneur Programme, where primary school children between 10-12 years old learn the value of entrepreneurship.
Q. How important have your people and staff been in terms of how Ergo has developed over 25 years?
JP: Without being cliché, Ergo is all about people. People are what sells and delivers our services. We have to be constantly engaging with our staff to ensure we are providing them with exciting pieces of work, so that they can have self-development and career development. One of the things that gives me enormous pleasure is when I see someone join the company in a relatively junior position, and watch them travel up through the organisation and take on more responsibilities, becoming a bigger part of the proposition and the overall company strategy.
Our people is what we rely on to keep Ergo going, and this will never change.
Want to learn more about Ergo? Check out the full story here.
John Purdy has been at the helm of Ergo for over 25 years as co-founder and CEO, spinning off two companies along the way – Fenergo and FlowForma – and winning the prestigious EY Industry Entrepreneur of the Year award in 2014 and Person of the Year at the 2011 ICT Excellence Awards. Under John’s leadership, Ergo has grown organically and through acquisition (CDSoft, iSite, Micromail) evolving into a €70m business with nearly 500 employees and a culture that reflects his capacity for continuous reinvention. He describes Ergo as “a mature company in constant start-up mode”, highlighting his appetite for innovation and change. At the same time he’s a pragmatist and team player, qualities that infuse Ergo’s daily operations where he has been careful to recruit talented people who share his vision. It’s all about creating an environment where the focus is on forging long-lasting relationships with customers through service excellence and a tenacious commitment to solving their problems. A graduate of Cranford University, London, he has qualifications in strategic management and marketing and is a member of the Irish Management Institute. He participated in the Leadership for Growth program in Stanford University, organised by Enterprise Ireland/Irish Software Association. John’s entrepreneurial flair is put to good use as an investor in a number of early stage technology companies, and he sits on the advisory board of technology company WeBringg, as well as chairing an advisory board for the Entrepreneur of the Year programme, working on government policy. Regularly heard through the media and at conferences, John is well known for his forthright views and a passionate commitment to making technology an enabler for doing better business and a force for positive change.
Original article found here.