THERE’S a Steve Jobs quote I have always related to: ‘It’s better to be a pirate than join the navy’.
If you’ve already started tutting and think that means sailing the seven seas and plundering bounty, then you might want to move on – this one’s not for you.
For entrepreneurs – and Teesside is particularly well-stocked with them at the moment – the quote is all about individuality, a spirit of rebellion and the freedom to plot your own course… and have some fun on the journey.
So… Chris Petty, then.
The MD of Stockton-based Cornerstone since he set it up a decade ago has an executive box at his beloved Boro that has seen more business done (and fun had) than half the industrial estates in Teesside. For Chris the mix is completely symbiotic – you have to blend business with pleasure to get the most out of relationships, many of which started when he first turned the key in the office door back in 2008 and are still as strong today.
Now the award-winning IT services business employs 25 and has hundreds of customers just as eager for a match day invitation to the Riverside as they are on upgrading their broadband. It isn’t afraid of taking on the big boys and fearlessly flies the flag for buying local and backing Teesside businesses.
“When I joined the Army I thought that was me for the rest of my life, so running my own IT company wasn’t something I planned,” says Chris.
“But I have always carried with me a sense of service and an ambition to be the best at whatever I do, so when the time was right I took my opportunity and knew from the first few days how I wanted it to be run and what it would stand for.
“There are simple strategies underpinning Cornerstone – offering the right
service from the very first phone call, right through to the problem being solved.
“IT is a constantly growing sector which crosses everyone’s lives with people relying on it for business and at home, so we have built and trained a team that can tackle any job – but always with a trademark level of service to keep us one step ahead. We all know from the number of updates we get on our phones and laptops how fast technology changes, so we have people working for us who love tech and are obsessed with the latest software or hardware. They can’t wait to get stuck into GDPR, and that’s what I mean about having fun while you work — sometimes it means drinks and dinner but more often it means really enjoying your job and not being afraid to stop for a chat with a customer and have a good laugh with them.”
That blueprint for success has led to growth and awards in equal measure, and the company is about to take the next step in its business plan by setting up a satellite office in Newton Aycliffe to go with the headquarters in George Stephenson Court on Preston Park — and has eyes on Leeds as its next move as it also rolls out new software that will enable the firm to run GDPR compliance operations for its clients.
So there is no shortage of ambition or forward planning here and, with the enjoyment cranked up to 11, it’s no
wonder Cornerstone staff tend to stick around. Teessiders like them want to build careers here, buy their homes here and raise the next generation with the same principles their boss has — work hard, play hard. In that order.
The perfect example of that loyalty is Chris Bibby, sitting alongside us in the Riverside box. Cornerstone’s Sales Director started as an administrator and now has his place at the boardroom table.
“I had worked with Chris previously and his management style and business plan really clicked with me,” Chris explains.
“He’s a salesman through and through, so when he called me in and offered me a role at this new business he was setting
up, I had pretty much said ‘yes’ before he finished the sentence.
“We have worked together over the years to make Cornerstone an instinctive business that doesn’t have to check the rule book each time a decision is made.
“Chris knows what to do in each situation – from a single sale to a new office – and has passed that through his team so that we all know what makes our business tick. And none of us would apologise for enjoying that enormously because we make our money here and we look forward to coming to work a few miles from where we live — who wouldn’t want that?”
“That approach is building the brand all the time and earning us great traction in the community, which means we can deal with bigger Teesside clients who might otherwise have had to head North or South. That’s clearly good for us, but it’s an investment in the region as well, and if the region keeps growing then all the Teesside businesses who have been here through good times and bad can grow along with it, and create the jobs we need for the future.”
Back in his boardroom, the other Chris has assembled and grown his team with great care.
“When we started out, it was easy –
you just shouted across the room to get something done,” he says.