ENTREPRENEURS invariably have to take a risk when they go it alone.
Just-so the case for Mark Ellis – in his mid-30s he was head of employment law and equity partner at North West commercial solicitors Aaron and Partners. But it wasn’t what he wanted.
“I wasn’t happy,” he said. “I had to do something about it.
“I gave up my equity partnership, re-mortgaged everything I had, and borrowed as much money as I could – and set up the business.”
This wasn’t the first time he had made a difficult career decision. The Calday Grammar pupil graduated from Coventry with a law degree but after just one week at Chester Law College, he was bored and quit in favour of a London post-graduate course covering marketing, export marketing and French.
“As part of the course we set up and ran our own market research company,” said Ellis
“We ended up making quite a lot of profit, which the college was quite embarrassed about, and we persuaded the college to pay us a dividend.”
He then started work at a marketing consultancy in Bath, but decided he wanted to have a qualification.
He returned to Chester, “with a different mind-set”, passed his law exams and began his career as a trainee solicitor – but did not suppress his entrepreneurial leanings, setting up and running a beauty product and treatment business called O-lys, which he worked on in all his spare hours, even manning a stand at beauty shows during weekends. It was a taste of success, and he eventually sold out to an investor.
Ellis remained restless, frustrated by the slow pace of change in the legal sector and still on the lookout for his entrepreneurial break.
Sat atop Beeston Castle, he had his eureka moment.
He said: “I thought ‘my business is law’. The key to success is not to necessarily come up with something brand new but simply to take something and do it much better.
“I had seen businesses like Peninsula and Citation targeting my clients with their proposition of ‘let’s fix the fee and cover the risk’.
“I decided to create a business support business that deals with regulatory compliance for business but crucially delivers quality, quality, quality. That’s how it started and how we differentiate ourselves.”
Ellis Whittam – he used the surname of one of his first employees to give the company the sound of a professional firm – began operating from a loft conversion in central Chester, before moving first to a larger loft conversion, then to its current home in the old Home Farm on the Grosvenor Estate, Alsford.
The firm provides a range of employment law, HR, health and safety and related business support services, with Ellis describing the proposition as “certainty of cost and total support and peace of mind”. Its fast growth has seen it expand to win business all over the country and it now supports around 12,000 organisations with about 1,500 retained clients, its portfolio includes Toni & Guy, Aston Martin and the businesses of TV Dragon Peter Jones.
Its success has been uninhibited by the recession which meant that by the end of 2009 the business had reached a crossroads.
Ellis brought in Deven Thakrar, an experienced senior executive at businesses including Hays and RAC, and went through a strategic exercise.
The result was Mr Thakrar became chief executive to drive forward a strategy of exponential growth. In the last year the company has put a full operating board in place and invested in infrastructure, capital expenditure, IT, premises and people, whilst remaining committed to the key tenets of Ellis’ business idea – a quality service delivered by happy staff.
He said: “If the people are genuinely happy and engaged, they will deliver inspirational service. If we do that, we will stand out in the market.”
In the last staff survey 93 per cent said they were happy or very happy, a score only beaten by the number of clients who said they would recommend the firm to another business.
Reproduced courtesy of the Liverpool Daily Post.
Member since: 10th July 2012
Chester word of mouth specialist, promotes and markets the best businesses in Chester. Passionately supporting local businesses, organisations and events.