It’s a business that is often not visible in plain sight, but according to O’Brien Boiler Services (OBS) Executive Chairman and co-founder Brendan O’Brien, boilers provide steam for breweries, laundries, hospitals, petrochemicals, glass, textile and industries that involve mechanical processes. Boilers and steam engines were the early forms of automation that have industrialised many cities and brought several changes to our lives today.
The advent of various technologies may have taken over our lifestyle that we sometimes forget that boilers, with the use of steam and heat, power many industries that we still use in our day-to-day activities. Brendan and his brother Shane have been in the industry for around two decades now, and they continue to provide good quality products and services to their clients and the communities they serve.
Having honed and trained in a process-driven field of work, Brendan shares his entrepreneurial journey and how his background has played a role in helping him run and manage their family business. From the various activities they do in their industry, let us translate them into the language of entrepreneurship, based on Brendan’s insights and experiences.
1.) Design a system
In a business that utilises steam, hot water or process heating system, it all starts with having an excellent design to produce the best results. A good design allows the system to operate with efficiency.
During the early days of the business, Brendan described it, “When we started we were chasing a dream. We had no business plan. We didn't know where we're going. In the early days, we didn't have any budgets. We're a lot more sophisticated today, and our method no longer works with regards to how we used to work. Now, we've got a team of 60. We have layers of management. They have to be informed of decisions because we adhere to certain processes and procedures.”
“We started to design our boilers for selling in the local market. We opened up in Sydney, we opened up in Brisbane, and we've also got an office in Perth. So, we've expanded on that journey. Our 2028 vision is to be Australia's number one boiler company,” Brendan continued.
2.) Improve operation and maintenance
For boilers to last longer, it has to be monitored thoroughly to ensure that it operates economically. Moreover, one has to find means to increase the productivity of its performance.
When it comes to running a business, Brendan alludes to their exceptional customer service and hard work as the factors that allow them to operate competently. Their business serves their customers 24/7 as they provide emergency breakdown service. “It's giving the customer what they need. We come up with solutions that the customer requires. Also, there's no substitute for hard work. Knowing your numbers is critical because there's no shortcut to success,” Brendan remarked.
Finding good qualified talent or staff and taking them towards the vision of the company is also important. “In 2017, we had a pivot team meeting to go back to the basics and refocus. We got everyone together and focused on our vision and our mission. We showed them that this is where we are going as a business and how we're going to do it. Once every quarter, we go off-site or away from the office to get together and realign our focus towards that vision,” he shared.
3.) Investigate recovery opportunities
There are opportunities in boilers to recover heat or energy. With regards to business, it is inevitable to commit certain mistakes along the way. To recoup from such blunders, Brendan learns from his mistakes and those of others and avoids repeating them. Despite the trying times, he stressed that entrepreneurs should not give up.
Brendan explained that their foundation when they began working was on problem-solving, having a pragmatic approach to things like following a logical sequence of events. “If it's broken, how do we fix it? It's black and white for us. Sometimes, we relate that to personal relationships or with people, although that's not always a case. Our problem-solving abilities have put us in good stead for the business. It includes the discipline in regards to the processes to be followed to achieve success in our field.”
4.) Find opportunities for improvement
On the technical side of the boiler system, there are factors to consider to see where quality can be improved. In the entrepreneurial journey, Brendan highlighted the need for continuous learning. Although his background was on being an industrial electrician, he went to Victoria University to take formal training in business and management. He narrated, “A friend once said to me, 'your bookshelf reads like how to conquer the world in three easy steps.' To which I said, 'it hasn't happened by accident. It was always a vision that I had to move forward into whatever it was, more than just our business or other business.' But this is what I've always wanted to do.”
Recently, he also joined EO Melbourne. “Being a member of different organisations, trade-based organisations, industry-based associations, or formal committees, I find it good to be associated with like-minded individuals. I'm still fairly new to EO. It's a different way of thinking from what I've always been exposed to before. The key to drive yourself to success is to surround yourself with exceptional people. I don't think anything can go wrong,” he remarked.
5.) Use energy wisely
Energy is the end product of boilers. Brendan also mentioned the rising energy in their business that he attributes to their leadership, their strong team and the hard work that everyone is putting into it. On a personal level, he finds energy through physical activities like mountain biking, swimming and surfing. “I had a good weekend away with the family, snowboarding up at Mount Hotham. Doing physical activity is how I like to de-stress from the business,” he said.
As he moves their business forward towards their 2028 vision, he looks at not only their immediate goals, business goals, and operational goals but also in making a difference environmentally, which is more of a holistic altruistic viewpoint. He looks at reducing their customers’ emissions by 20% and make a positive impact on the environment. With all these goals in mind, Brendan is full of energy to make things happen and exceed their expectations come 2028.