Cerys Cook (Director of People and Culture at The PUR Company and a competitive obstacle course racing athlete) took part in the "How to Reach Your Potential" initiative, an interview series featuring leaders who inspire Alex Rascanu and whose insights can help you reach your potential.
Cerys Cook is a solo parent of two, the Director of People and Culture at The PUR Company and a competitive obstacle course racing (OCR) athlete.
Professionally, Cerys joined PUR in January 2016 as their first HR leader with the objective to build a first in class team, drive high-level performance, and establish a PUR-ly amazing culture. As a non-traditional HR professional, Cerys owns culture and adamantly believes in the power of people. She works tirelessly and strategically alongside Jay Klein, Founder & CEO, to build PUR into a truly global organization.
Alex: What is your life’s purpose?
Cerys: That’s a big question! At this point in my life, I believe my life’s purpose is to bring together individuals, helping them build bonds that become so strong they are unbreakable and to teach them how powerful an impact they can have on the world.
Alex: What are the three things you’re most passionate about?
Cerys: I am simply passionate! Pick three, pick three…
My family. I am a solo parent to two incredible people. They are the biggest reason I am always striving to be the best person I can. Showing them what is possible no matter the obstacle is my most important role. In addition to my children, fostering positive and meaningful relationships with my incredible fiancé, my wonderfully supportive parents, my irreplaceably amazing sisters and my extended family and friends. Relationships, they are what make life beautiful. I love everyone in my life so much I could explode! I think that’s how life should feel.
My career. How can I define how passionate I am about my career in a few words? It is such a huge piece of who I am. I got into the field of HR because I believed in the power of people driving organizations to be amazing. I have always disliked the title Human Resources – sounds like strip-mining people’s souls for money – to be frank. I have worked hard to change the perception of HR from a disciplinary, administrative function to a strategic partner and leader within all the organizations I have had the pleasure to work. My role is not HR, although I do perform many traditional HR functions, it is People and Culture and it is vital to the core of PUR. Building an unbeatable team of passionate, smart, relentless people who believe in a common goal – how can you not be passionate about that! It does not even feel like work, that’s how much I love it. Just like building wealth, it takes time and discipline but the principle is simple. Do the right things for people. When you see the results, it is magic.
Healthy Lifestyle. Without this there is no possible way I could be the best version of myself and give everything to my relationships, my career, my athletic pursuits and very importantly be truly happy with who I am.
Alex: How do you stay healthy? What’s your main health-related goal?
Cerys: I am a competitive obstacle course racer (OCR). You may have heard of Spartan, Tough Mudder, Savage Race etc. I compete in these race series and others with the ultimate goal to qualify for the OCR World Championships which I have competed in for the past 2 years. Qualifying for the world’s again is on my list as well as to get in some ultra distances (scary). My biggest goal, however, is to improve my speed and efficiency in races.
A lot of people ask me, why OCR?
My answer is that you never know what is going to be thrown in your direction so you must prepare for anything and everything. This is a massive challenge. You must be an all-around athlete to be successful! Speed, agility, strength, endurance and courage, lots and lots of courage. Oh, and proper nutrition.
It takes a lot of dedication, discipline and training, training, training. You will often see me using my favorite hashtag on Instagram #alwaystraining! It is funny because it is true!
Beyond all of that, it is a sport that is you versus you when all is said and done. Yes, you have all the other people competing but when you are running super long distances, up a ridiculously steep mountain, going over, under, through every obstacle imaginable, it becomes about mental grit.
Mental grit is not something that can be taught, only earned. It is important to have to get through life and to be the best in whatever area it is that you are meant to shine.
It does not get boring. There is always something you are not good at or have not tried before and need to work through. Just like life! I strongly encourage everyone to try it, just once. Come on, you can do it!
Alex: How do you build wealth? What’s your main financial goal?
Cerys: Building wealth is a challenge, especially being a solo parent. We are not all lucky enough to be making 6 figure salaries from the time we are 20 years old! Basically, it takes time.
I simply keep it simple. Budget, put money in savings first, live on what is remaining.
My biggest advice to anyone and I know this sounds crazy but…do not spend more than what you make! I steer clear of credit card debt. Why fund VISAs profits when being able to buy what I want with cash only takes a little planning and discipline? Some people may call it cheap, I call it smart. I am always looking at needs versus wants – this has become a habit from the necessity of scraping by when I was younger.
Saving is the key to building wealth. Once you build a foundation you can start thinking about investing or putting a down payment on a home. It builds from there.
To put it simply, if you are disciplined in saving, you will build wealth.
My main financial focus is to build my nest egg through smart investing to fund my retirement. Although I have no plans or desire to retire any time soon! I still have so much to do! As I said, it takes time and discipline but, I am getting there.
Alex: How do you balance work and family life?
Cerys: In a nutshell, plan, prioritize and be willing to be flexible at a moment’s notice.
I look at my life holistically rather than this life and that life. It is all me, all part of who I am and what makes me whole. Some days one piece of me needs more attention, other days it is another piece of me. You will not achieve ‘balance’ every day, the days you do are glorious. It is important to give yourself permission to be imperfect and to understand that today you are putting your energy into the most important priority of that day. Life is a long time. It is important to look at the big picture and to not micromanage your own life!
I try to be disciplined about using the time I am given each day to the fullest and I have very clear goals in each area of my life. I know exactly how I want to achieve them, what it takes and how I will get there. Having a plan is important. Being flexible when things do not go according to plan is crucial to your sanity.
The three biggest priorities in my life are my career, my family and my athletic endeavors. Each one takes a significant chunk of time. I know I cannot do it all alone. I lean on the people around me as support, even my children who, as a result, are incredibly independent, wonderfully impactful, tremendous people who do not feel entitled to anything! Team work makes the dream work! Cheesy but true.
Alex: How do you enjoy spending time with family and friends?
Cerys: To me, it does not really matter what we are doing, if we are doing it together. I spend as much time as I can, I always wish there was more.
It often involves food. I used to be a chef. Either eating out or staying in to cook something together.
One of my favorite things to do is to bring a bottle of wine (or two) and cook dinner for my parents or my kids. They are 19 and 21, it’s okay, they can drink wine. My kids that is, my parents are a little bit older, they are also allowed to drink wine!
Most of my friends, at this point in my life, I have met through my sport so we train together, race together, cheer for each other, stay together when we are racing out of town. We are immersed in our own culture of OCR. It is amazing, uplifting, supportive and truly rewarding. Best community ever.
Alex: What has been the most fulfilling role you’ve ever had, or the most fulfilling project you’ve been involved with so far?
Cerys: The role I am in today. At PUR, I have been given the opportunity, the trust, the freedom – without restrictions of budgets, rigid ideas, bureaucracy – to build a best in class team and culture globally. The best in the world. How can that not make you ooze with pride and excitement?
I love The PUR Company so much! (Did I mention I am passionate?). I believe in our products. I believe in our founder. I believe in our people. We are building something truly special.
Having a leader like Jay Klein is an unbelievable opportunity. He thinks differently than the rest of the world and opens my eyes continually to possibility. He questions everything and pushes for a better answer every single time. There is a tremendous feeling at the end of the day knowing that you were pushed outside your comfort zone and landed solidly on your feet as a better person.
Not something that comes around twice in a lifetime, not even usually once. I feel incredibly blessed to have been given the opportunities I have in life – the good stuff and the super challenging stuff! My biggest growth has come from the challenges.
Alex: What’s one career planning lesson that has made a significant difference in your life?
Cerys: Think opportunity first, money second. If you are in a role that you love, truly connect with the purpose of the organization and feel you are making a difference they you will do your best work and be happy doing it. When you do your best work, the money will come.
Alex: What would you like your legacy to be?
Cerys: Why I got into the people field was to be able to have a positive impact on the work lives of others, help them to grow and develop into the best version of themselves. Hopefully it resonates deeper than work through my actions with my family and my pursuit of excellence in sport. I would love that to be my legacy, to be a little bit of an inspiration. Although that sounds like it is about me and it isn’t at all, I’m more excited for the success of others than I am for my own – I just try to lead by example.
I hope that when people think of me, they think, yeah, Cerys helped make my life a little bit better.
Alex: Cerys, thank you so much for taking part in this interview! Thank you for being so open and for sharing so many helpful insights!
Did you find one or more of Cerys' thoughts helpful? Are there any ideas or resources that came to mind as you read the interview?
Please share your thoughts and feedback in the comments section below, and consider sharing the interview with a friend via social media or email.
Also, consider checking out the How to Reach Your Potential interviews with Trina Boos, Hamza Khan, James Tjan, Vlad Rascanu, Drew Dudley, Alexandru Holicov, Andrew Mizzoni, Christa Dickenson, Louise Adongo, Sarah Chaudhery, Jake Nicolle, Andy McIlwain, Busola Akin-Olawore, Rebecca Laramée, Richard Obede and Bailey Parnell. Thank you.