ANTONY AKILADE meets the founder and owner of deals online site itison and Dada PR.

Success brings fresh challenges. For Oli Norman founder and owner of deals online site itison, Dada PR, one of the UK's most successful public relations companies, and more recently restauranteur and bar owner, the challenge is to maintain the unique working environments he manages to create.

"I went across to Disney for a one week course to try and understand how one of the most successful corporations in the world dealt with this problem," Norman recalls.

Disney attracts hundreds of thousands of keen recruits every year. Many of these will have unrealistic expectations of what life dressed as a princess or running a thrill ride will actually be like.

"The Disney recruitment process was really quite negative. The first thing they do is show the would be employees a video that goes through what life is really like there. There is a long list of things employees are not allowed to do. They are not allowed to wear earrings. No tattoos are allowed. They show the video then they turn to the applicants and give them an opportunity to leave. Many do leave."

Headcount at Norman's businesses is now around 150 across Scotland at bases in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Dundee and Aberdeen and as the group continues to grow these numbers will increase as well as the difficulties in maintaining the culture Norman has worked hard to nurture.

"I'd been creating the culture of the businesses through strength of personality. But when the company grows to scale this becomes impractical. So it was through a Scottish Enterprise learning journey that I came to see that you have to operationalise the culture. We post out our culture document to applicants. It says very clearly for example: 'Zero tolerance for office politics.' 'Youth no barrier to experience.' This way we define the culture upfront and then enforce it rigorously."

Norman is sharing his leadership experiences and approaches with a group of entrepreneurs assembled by Scottish Enterprise. The masterclass is being held in an ornate dining room on the first floor of Sloans in Glasgow. Established in 1797 it is Glasgow's oldest bar. Norman took it over as a challenge. To see if he could apply his business philosophy of 'unique and best' to the license trade.

The bar, reached through an historic lane off Argyle Street, is stubbornly resistant to a century of modernisation and development, with ceramic tiled entrance, imposing mahogany staircase, elaborately plastered ceilings with gilt-edged detailing and a grand ballroom on the upper floor. It would not automatically conjure up expectations of delivering 'the best Friday night club in Glasgow'. However the ceilidh night Norman introduced is regularly full and is certainly unique.

Oli Norman took possession in 2006 and was his first foray into the bar trade. He has since added Brel in the west end of Glasgow, to his portfolio.

Dada, at one time the fastest growing PR business in the UK, built its reputation around its knack of creating innovative events. Norman recalls the naked drinkers campaign to launch the revamp of a Hilton Hotels bar in the west end of Glasgow. Now however he is content with the client list he has. "I want to keep Dada niche and profitable."

Indeed he cannibalised staff from the business to set up the current money earner and attention grabber: online deals business itison.

"I got rid of half of the retained business. Property etc. It's not that I saw the crash coming. I didn't. I'm not a sage. I just wanted to pivot into itison."

itison is the largest deals online site in Scotland with membership approaching 600,000 and pre-tax profit of nearly £1 million in only its second year of trading. itison operates in one of the fiercest retail sectors but has managed to see off challenges from much larger global rivals, including Groupon, again Norman has applied his 'unique and best' philosophy to building the business.

"We made a point of owning the back-end technology because we realised very early on that if you want agile technology you had to do it yourself."

itison now has10 proprietary systems including a user profiler and a system that shows all local competitor deal offers. But Norman believes technology has its limits.

"You can take the big data approach too far. You start making assumptions about your customers and get them wrong."

With the success Norman has enjoyed, the pressure of expectation from financiers, advisers and indeed the media, to extend his reach grows. But Norman not only knows his own mind but also demonstrates he has the confidence to trust his own judgement. His planned expansion south of the Border in Manchester and Liverpool, has been halted.

"It just wasn't right," he explains. "There's a vanity about growing. I see many who branched out too soon are now in retreat. But it's important not to allow vanity to overrule business sense. We want to get our model right first," Norman says before finally disappearing along a wood-panelled corridor. Sloans, though it has passed through the hands of many owners, has stood the test of time. The founders clearly got the model right.