Cian Prendergast founded Ortus Limited, a managed IT services company, in Ireland in 2008. His goal was to build an IT company with a fresh and energetic approach. And one that placed human-to-human communication at the heart of all business dealings.
From the start, clients responded to this new way of doing IT. However, it was during the early lockdown in March 2020 that the value of keeping things human really came to the fore.
As businesses scrambled to become fully digital in a matter of days, having a knowledgeable and reassuring technology partner on the other end of a screen or phone call became critical. Amidst a lot of panic, the Ortus ethos helped calm the waters for many of Ireland’s firms.
The focus on human-centric customer experience also turned out to be a great business decision for Ortus. Word of mouth marketing has skyrocketed during the pandemic, and Ortus has grown. A lot!
Today we find out more from Cian on his business ethos and why placing people first is always a sound strategy.
Why did you decide to create your own business?
I’d been working in IT since 2002. And I loved it.
On the other hand, I’d seen how technology had been prioritised over people in the field. This made no sense to me as it’s people who use the technology to do their jobs, run their businesses etc. It contributed to a fear factor and a lot of frustration among really smart business people who’d need an IT problem addressed and would immediately tell me “I’m not a techie”.
I realised there was another way of doing things, and Ortus was born.
What keeps you motivated?
Right now, Covid!
That’s not a flippant answer. Every business right now is navigating through a challenge that is changing by the minute. We’re guiding our clients’ businesses, our employees and our own business through the pandemic and we’re motivated to do our best for all three.
Apart from Covid, I am highly motivated by how humans and technology interact. We hear lots of things about robots and AI and digital transformation, and often they’re seen as scary things. But actually technology is all about being an enabler to do things better. I’m not counting humans out for a long time to come!
Who has been a role model to you and why?
Without a doubt, my mother has been my biggest influence and she remains so to this day.
She deals with people on a human and empathic level. These are traits I seek to emulate in my team.
I had a difficult schooling career, but my mother refused to believe in anything other than my potential and capability. Her insistence was so strong that in the end I had to believe it too!
She also inadvertently was the person to get me into computers years ago.
She was teaching a child with cerebral palsy. My mother knew the child was intelligent and would be able to communicate, as a non-verbal person, if she could get a computer for him. In her search for funding, she eventually got onto the Late Late Show and got the computer. The child flourished and confirmed that he was as witty and intelligent as my mother always said he was.
The computer was in our house and my brother and I were always messing around on it. Without realising it, I was building an understanding of computers back when it wasn’t seen as a viable career option.
How do you maintain a solid work life balance?
Firstly, the idea of a work life balance for me is something that is fluid rather than fixed. Some times require more of you than others, and right now we’re in one of those periods.
That said, I am aware of the need to switch off. Working in IT means that a 9-5 day isn’t really the norm. However, I take time out to have dinner with my family with no screens around. And I have a few other non-negotiables similar to that one built into my day.
I also make a point of getting into Ireland’s bountiful natural resources, within my lockdown limits, as often as I can. A walk or cycle in the fresh air really does restore my energy levels.
While Covid-19 hasn’t been anyone’s idea of an enjoyable experience, I believe we will see some long-term upsides from it once we’re in the recovery phase. And one of those I believe is a newfound respect and love for our environment. Nature has been the balm during this time in a big way.
What traits do you possess that make you a successful leader?
I’d prefer if you asked my team that question!
However, I am confident to say that my belief in “people first” has helped me build a business with a culture that means people feel comfortable and able to give their best.
I understand ROI and I’m able to read a balance sheet. Revenue and profit are very important. Without them, you don’t have a business.
But people have to come first if you want to build a sustainable business. And myself and my team at Ortus do.
What has been the hardest obstacle you’ve overcome?
I struggled in school academically. I didn’t quite understand what the teachers were talking about.
Learning from words on a page didn’t work for me and I fell behind. To avoid being embarrassed at not being able to answer questions or read properly, I acted out a bit.
In later life, I discovered that I have a form of dyslexia, which was most likely at the core of my initial problem.
The knock-on effect of the experience I had at school was no confidence. I drifted from jobs such as binman, barman, sandwich maker, factory worker, fruit picker and building site labourer.
It was probably an interest in music and sound engineering, and a mentor in that course, that gave me a belief in myself that many years in the educational system had torn away.
What is one piece of advice that you have never forgotten?
Sun Tzu’s messages have always hit home with me.
One in particular resonates deeply. I have tweaked it slightly in keeping with modern society.
“Treat your people as you would your own beloved children and they will follow you into the darkest of valleys.”
I remind myself of this every single day. I love my team like I love my family.
I value their success. My main motivation every day is not technology, it’s not growth, it’s not even my own success. It’s giving people who just needed a chance an opportunity.
Watching people thrive is an addiction of mine.
Outside of work, what defines you as a person?
The same thing that defines me inside of work.
I never tire of people and I’ll do anything to help the ones I love.
If I wasn’t running Ortus, I would have loved to work with young people. Perhaps in a role of helping and guiding young people who are not having an easy time with the school curriculum. I could still do this in the future.
I also have a strong passion for music, especially live music. And I love to travel. I’m looking forward to being able to do that once we can again.
Where do you see you and your company in 5 years?
Ortus will be the best specialist managed services provider (MSP) in Ireland in 5 years time.
There will be some larger businesses that sell lots of computers. No doubt they will be bigger than us. But as far as specialist organisations go and how far ahead we are in our areas of expertise, we will be the biggest and most successful MSP in Ireland in 5 years.
How can you be reached?
My own LinkedIn profile is here if anyone wants to connect with me.