Shaper: Ben Elliot encore

Show aired on 30th June 2018

Transcript

Elliot Moss
Welcome to the Jazz Shaper’s Podcast from Mishcon de Reya. What you are about to hear was originally broadcast on Jazz FM however the music has been cut or shortened due to rights issues.

That was Angie Stone with Brotha starting today’s special edition of Jazz Shapers here on Jazz FM. Yes it is an hour of music from the Shapers in the world of jazz, soul and blues but today we revisit a former guest who is back with us right now. Our guest on Jazz Shapers Encore is the man who founded Quintessentially, it is Ben Elliot. Quintessentially of course is the high end concierge service and the idea for the business in case you didn’t know after Elton John requested one of the founders to go and buy Christmas cracker fillers and for that pleasure, gave him a few hundred thousand pounds reportedly in cash. Quintessentially the business soon followed back in 2000. Thirteen years later and Ben was on this very show and today, five years on from that we will find out what he has achieved since then. On top of finding out what he’s achieved, we will also find out what Quintessentially has been up to. That’s all coming up in the next fifty odd minutes along with some words of advice for your business from our programme partners at Mishcon de Reya and music as I said earlier from Jazz Shapers both past and present and right now first up it is Mongo Santamaria with Green Onions.

That was Mongo Santamaria with Green Onions and right here as I said on Jazz Shapers, I’ve got an Encore. A special guest here in Jazz FM and it is Ben Elliot, he is one of the founders of Quintessentially, you heard earlier I interviewed him five years ago. He doesn’t look a day older. I can say that Ben because I can actually see you.

Ben Elliot
Well you know, you are just being very sweet.

Elliot Moss
I am, I’m lying.

Ben Elliot
Yeah you are but don’t worry. Nobody can see me.

Elliot Moss
You do look the same. Five years on, thank you firstly for coming back in.

Ben Elliot
Thank you very much.

Elliot Moss
It is really hard isn’t it when someone says what did you do last week let alone what have you been doing for five years but what have you been doing for five years? What’s happened in the business?

Ben Elliot
Working hard.

Elliot Moss
Yeah.

Ben Elliot
And I can tell you about what we tried to achieve not just here in the UK and globally. I have been working hard at being a good husband and father. The last time I saw you I didn’t have many of those responsibilities, I do have two sons and a marvellous wife and, and funny enough and I am sure this is the same for anyone when they get to be a father and people talk to you and say oh beforehand things change but actually when you do become a father you really start looking at the world that you live in and what is important and there are many things that being a father have changed. I mean I have always tried to be a responsible person and responsible citizen but I think I have accelerated that because it makes you very clearly black and white see how lucky perhaps they are compared to how unlucky some other people are.

Elliot Moss
I mean even though five years ago I recall you and people that know you and know of you will know that you have always had a very strong philanthropic focus and a thrust to your life, probably what’s happened is the theory has been accelerated into practice?

Ben Elliot
Yes I absolutely feel that. I mean I believe and there are many better explanation of this and myself that if you have a good business and you have committed people who work for you and you have committed customers, it is brilliant to bring them to places or things or charities that you think are important and I can bang on relentlessly about the things that I am involved with and why I think they are important but I feel very clearly in the City we are sitting in, London, that we live that there is some huge social problems which the State say they can’t deal with for all sorts of reasons and I think that businesses can really partner with charities to accelerate their progress and success. If you are interested…

Elliot Moss
I am and I want to come on to that because I think it has always been, as I said earlier, that part that was there even then and all the time I’ve known you.

Ben Elliot
Sure.

Elliot Moss
I want to talk about the business for a bit, I want to start there because…

Ben Elliot
With pleasure.

Elliot Moss
…as you said you have no platform without a successful business because it is very hard to have any traction and have the freedom to spend time doing other things. I want you to… have a listen back to this, you said this when we first met five years ago about your approach to business and I just want to see if you still feel it today?

If you are going to set up a business you’ve got to be excited about it, you’ve got to take pleasure in what you do, you’ve got to kind of skip to work in the morning and that old fashioned thing that if you have your own business and you take pride in it, it’s a great, great privilege to run your own business, to do those things and it comes of course with great responsibility. So it is about good people, good committed people working hard.

Now in there I think in a revealing way you talk about skipping to work, you talk about loving what you do and then you also talk about responsibility which is immediately where you started. Tell me, do you still skip to work?

Ben Elliot
Yeah absolutely. I am a bit, maybe a bit more clumsy in that I’ve got two dogs and two children so when I’ve you know, done my bit on that I am probably a bit more shambolic than I used to be but absolutely. I skip bloody hard and I am still excited about Quintessentially opportunities that it has created for me and the people that work and some of the other things that have come from that. So yes. There is an old adage, there’s… my mum gave me a poster once which is work hard and be nice to people and if you do those things and you enjoy what you are doing, then you can feel that and anyone who unfortunately comes across me will know that I definitely work hard and I try and be nice to people although sometimes I am sure that people can get bored of my relentlessness perhaps.

Elliot Moss
In those five years you talk about being relentless Ben, what changes have you affected in the Quintessentially business? What’s happened that hadn’t happened then?

Ben Elliot
Well I think that we brought many of the people on who had started with us in maybe more junior positions into more senior positions. I mean, my meeting this morning was with a lady who started in our Athen’s office who then came to work with us in London, is now running, has been running our US business and we are asking her to run other businesses for us. Her whole life has been from University to working only with us and it is amazing to see some really young, talented people given opportunities and I think strongly about this, you know, I know there is huge criticism in the workplace about the millennial generation, about how they are not prepared to stick something out. Well that’s an absolutely example of a lady who has really kind of gone through the ranks and now is in charge of our largest market and will end up running lots of stuff for us. So I think as a business gets bigger, of course there are more challenges when your business becomes larger and more global but what I feel thrilled about is that we brought on some of the young talent and are now giving them more opportunities to do stuff. In regards to how I think about it, I don’t think about it that differently other than that the people that like the lady I talked about, if you are giving them more responsibility then that’s a good thing because not everybody wants to be dealing with someone like me.

Elliot Moss
In terms of dealing with someone like you though and you’ve talked about the internal piece and talent, the thing that strikes me about you is and that I always love about the way you have gone about it, is you think big. You are fearless in the sense of I am going to get Stormzy and Stormzy’s going to come to my fund raiser, I am going to get the biggest names in the industry I just don’t care, I am going to pick up the phone and ask them. Where does that deep inner confidence and sense of fearlessness come from? Because people, you know there is that old adage about going big and we all want to do it but very few of us actually do it and I think you do?

Ben Elliot
Well it is incredibly generous and kind of you to say that. My mother and father would ask the same question and often ask the same question.

Elliot Moss
You’re not our son.

Ben Elliot
Allegedly and when I was a child and I’ve got two sisters who also probably would sign up to my parent’s view on me, I was always the child that would go and… if I was doing a newspaper round I didn’t want to just do it for the village that I lived in, I wanted to do it for the three villages next door to us and it wasn’t, I don’t know, I was always that thing. I mean, I am doing next week my tenth cycle ride for charity where I coral people into doing stuff and each year it gets more difficult even though I am getting older and I spoke to a friend of mine last night and we are going to the Tyrol Valley in Austria, going up the toughest mountains and they are like why do you keep on doing that and I have just always been somebody who doesn’t spend much time reflecting which might be a wrong thing on what ones doing but thinking okay how can we push this forward and what can we do more in that way. I used to do magic shows as a child. My stage name was Merlin the Marvel and the customers were my school mates in Dorset where I am front and I asked my parents about this recently and they said, well you started out you were really appalling and you were really appalling at the end but the only reason why you got away with it is you had some patter and that when it was going badly you bribed the audience with sweets, you know children as we know easily bribeable when candy is involved. And I don’t know, it’s nice that you said that but I am always trying to push, whether that’s to do with business or to do with philanthropy or some of the political things, I think you know, that’s what I am like and I am sure there are consequences of that but I don’t think I am going to change.

Elliot Moss
Stay with me for Merlin the Marvel, my Business Shaper today aka Ben Elliot. He’s got a lot more tails to tell about why he is who he is and how that impacts his business and the wider world. Before that though we’ve got some words of wisdom I hope from our programme partners at Mishcon de Reya for your burgeoning business.

You are listening to Jazz Shapers with me, Elliot Moss and I hope you are enjoying today’s programme. There are lots more ways that you can listen to the hundreds of guests that I have had on the programme apart from Ben Elliot today. You can also ask Alexa to play Jazz Shapers and there you can hear lots of the recent programmes including today’s after 10.00, or if you put ‘Jazz’ and ‘Shapers’ into iTunes you will get the full archive to enjoy. Right here though I have got Ben Elliot, he is our Encore Edition Special and we have been talking about Ben’s relentlessness, Merlin the Marvel and just the inner drive that you are just going to keep going. You are going to do stuff and that sense of anything is possible. We talked a little bit about business, you mentioned politics, I wanted to come on to that. When we first met about five years ago you also had a few words to say about this. Have a listen.

Elliot Moss
Are you going to become a politician?

Ben Elliot
I certainly, I have certainly been thinking about it a lot for difference reasons. I mean business is, that’s what I love doing and I think that you give people great opportunities as I have discussed with you before by helping them set up in business and those things and I think that agenda which everybody is talking at the moment, at the moment isn’t being driven through hard enough in terms of a kind of central political whatever. Whether it is actually me deciding to go into politics to do that. I am a bit confused at the moment and I am taking advice from sage like people. In regards to London, the City that I live in, I had the great fortune to help on the Diamond Jubilee a lot this year and there are some other projects that I would very much like to help the Mayor on.

Elliot Moss
So back then you talked about politics. Obviously it is important to you, you said at that time you were taking soundings, since then you’ve been involved with Zach Goldsmith’s campaign if people didn’t know, some may know, as a key person supporting him and raising funds and so on and so forth. Not successful on that front but you Ben Elliot, are we going to see Ben Elliot MP in the near future?

Ben Elliot
Five years ago I didn’t have a family and when you have a family you have to start thinking about them and I know from friends of mine and politicians that being a front line politician is very difficult for people’s families so I am making… the decision that I am going to make soon I will make as a husband and father when beforehand I was making it alone. So to answer your question I feel very, very politically committed at the moment. I think it is a very, very difficult time in our country, not just because of Brexit but even in the City we live in, there is huge social unease at the moment and I’ve seen that first hand on two charities that I work with, with my own hands on a weekly basis and I think the Grenfell moment in June of last year really forced people who didn’t, who beforehand perhaps might have swept it under the carpet, that there is huge, huge social problems that the State can help with but also charities so the question to answer your question in a round about way. If I think I can be more effective in helping drive change outside of politics then I will do that. If I think that actually that being a front line politician I can make more change then I will go and do that.

Elliot Moss
It strikes me that, that the social unease, your question really is can I… is the best remedy for Ben Elliot to help that either inside the political structure or outside of it and it strikes me that an entrepreneur like you, someone who isn’t constrained by anyone else’s rules, someone who goes big as I said might well find that being an MP is too constricting?

Ben Elliot
Well, you have to tow the party line and I am somebody who says what I think and I am sure that can be irritating for other people. I’ve got very involved in the last year in a Think Tank which I think hopefully this year you will see the fruits of our labour which is called The Centre For Policy Studies and I feel, if you think about what the CPS did in the late 70s under Keith Joseph’s leadership, it came up with extraordinary positive policies that it dealt with things like the right to people to own their own Council home, it dealt with privatisation, it dealt with some of the deregulation. Lots of things that created all sorts of opportunities for people in this country and I feel of course the debate is mired in the quagmire of that is Brexit so with the CPS we are going to try and come up with two or three things; one related to welfare, one related to this housing issue that clear… you know I see that with the people that work with me. On a good decent salary how could you ever, I mean my generation, I am forty two, if you worked hard and saved you could get on the property ladder. That is beyond people now and I think that’s a real, real problem. So I think there are solutions, some pretty innovative silver bullet solutions that could really get people on the housing ladder which don’t relate to just you know, creating more housing stock but actually giving them all sorts of legs up that perhaps they don’t currently have. So I feel that crafting some policy or helping craft some policy is very, very important. Whether I go and then to help deliver that in a frontline political way I don’t know but I am trying my hardest I promise you.

Elliott Moss
Ben Elliot is my Business Shaper today, we have been talking about politics and having a manifesto whether you are in it or not in it. I suppose we are all in it in some way. We’ve talked a little bit about business. I want to talk about specifically charity which is not unrelated because that social unease which you identify is at the centre of everything. You are very active. There are people that say well I give money, you give your time and it’s not just charity, I mean for those people that don’t know, Ben is Chair of his own Foundation which is all well and good but is also Trustee at the V&A, Victoria and Albert, sits on the development board at the Royal Albert Hall. I think you are also involved with the Eranda Rothschild Foundation, a non-exec of YouGov. I mean there is quite a lot of stuff Ben, I mean before we go into the charities. How do you, I ask this of people who are involved in lots of things, you are co-founder and partner at Hawthorne the communications agency. How do you find the time to do all this stuff or isn’t it like that for you? Don’t you go slightly crazy looking left and right and going I haven’t got a minute? I’ve got no time to think deeply and clearly about these things?

Ben Elliot
Well I am lucky. At the weekend I am able to reflect and spend time, intense time with my family. We have a house in the West Country and that’s a retreat but if you… I’ve always been somebody as we’ve talked before, who wants to get involved and I wouldn’t ever get involved in something if I felt that I was going to let somebody down or not deliver or not push it forward and hopefully all of those organisations, be they charities or businesses, would say that I am a force of good and if they didn’t I would be the first to put my hand up and say okay this isn’t for me but I would never, ever accept to get involved in something if I felt I couldn’t move it and help it either grow as a business or, I mean, also I have learnt lots of things from it. I mean you lean stuff from people. Going on the Board of the Victoria and Albert Museum which I think is the greatest museum of art and design on our planet, at a time where it is really changing, you know we’ve opened, we are opening in Dundee, we’ve opened in China, we’ve got in East London, we’ve got the new V&A East which will open over the next couple of years. We’ve got a brilliant new leader in Dr Tristram Hunt, to be part of all that and to help them think through some of that is amazing and see some of the minds and energy of the people – I’ve learnt stuff so I try and go in either to help in a very specific thing but also hoping that I get something back myself.

Elliot Moss
And never overwhelmed? You?

Ben Elliot
No. No I mean look, I was a bit intimidated when I went to my first Board meeting at the V&A because it’s a venerable institution but no what you realise, the people… there are lots of people who talk about stuff in life and my feeling is, is you can talk about stuff forever but unless you are prepared to roll up your sleeves and get something done, there’s no point in being there and hopefully all the people involved in that will say I am somebody who rolls up my sleeves. So yes of course any business person when related to charity has got demands on their time and sometimes something gives. I feel a bit nervous at the moment because I am going on my tenth annual cycle ride and trying to fit in cycle training with trying to be a good father, husband, business partner, you know, philanthropist is sometimes demanding. You know you can get nervous and worried about that. But I feel thrilled to have really worked in a collaborative way with a charity here in London which I think will hopefully develop across the UK which revolves around food waste.

Elliot Moss
And I want to hold that thought because I want to talk about that properly and I know we are going to run out of time if we don’t just pause there for a moment. I am going to have our final chat with Ben and we are going to talk all about the important topic of food waste and probably other charitable stuff that Ben is involved in. That’s coming up in a few minutes and in about fifteen minutes times just so you know, and you are listening tightly, we will be crossing to Glynn Place for the start of our weekend’s coverage of the Love Supreme Jazz Festival so we will play a song from Sunday’s main stage headliner, that’s Earth, Wind and Fire coming up next.

That was Earth, Wind and Fire with Shining Star, soon to be on the Love Supreme Jazz Festival main stage. Ben Elliot just for a few more minutes is my Encore guest and we have gone through, rattled through a bunch of stuff and Merlin the Marvel is here, we haven’t got him dressed up but I hope you can feel the passion that this man has and the sense of his own belief, which is really, really important. Right, I want to go back to food waste and I want to talk about you doing things. You talk about people, talk about stuff some people do, you have been doing stuff. Tell me about what you’ve been doing?

Ben Elliot
Yes. So the Felix Project came into my life through a friend of mine who unfortunately lost his son and in honour of his son he remembers his son, who was a privileged kid playing against some kids who were less privileged and he remembers very clearly his son buying some cornetto’s for the kids afterwards and he is a brilliantly sophisticated entrepreneur and he realised that there is a huge problem in this country that we have masses of waste, okay, masses of food waste. Some which is imposed upon us by regulation and legislation that says this food is off when we all know at home if you smell it that you could eat that probably for another week but what happens is you have certainly got mountains of stuff that has got to be thrown away. So he set up the Felix Project which takes that food waste and asks volunteers, people like myself to go and drive a van and then deliver it to charities that need and the charities that need, I mean there is a galling fact – here in London 70,000 children don’t have breakfast every day – so we work with breakfast clubs for children, we work with old people’s homes, we work with homeless shelters, we worked a lot in West London with the Rugby Portobello Trust which is the main arterial charity that benefitted or you know, was… that worked with most of the survivors and families after the Grenfell tragedy of last year and what I’ve done is, is raise lots of money, hopefully raised lots of awareness. I mean I am taking sixty people cycling up Austrian mountains for them…

Elliot Moss
I wanted to be there.

Ben Elliot
Next time you will and there are… we do you know, extravagant carol concerts but most importantly I have been cajoling CEO’s of businesses to alert their staff about it. There is a hundred and ninety three staff who work with me in London who volunteer every week for the Felix Project. This is just from the Quintessentially family and there are some other bigger, larger corporates that I’ve taken the CEO’s and we’ve gone and driven the van and done the stuff and say look, actually you can give maybe three or four extra days to your staff to come and do something like this. One, you become a better corporation and a better citizen and tick that box of CSR which they pretend to tick but more importantly your staff and millennial staff care about this more, will think better about you. They will be more productive when they come to work knowing that their organisation has a role in protecting and helping people who are less fortunate and more disadvantaged than them and the more I can get people to do it, and the more they experience it, the more they love it, the better the charity is going to be, the better our society is going to be. The State can’t do all of that. I mean if you think about it, one of the bad things of, of the last years’ election is they had a pledge that they were going to do breakfast clubs for children and they decided actually they couldn’t afford it. I personally think that’s wrong but charities like this can pick up the slack and also what I would love to be involved with is for instance, in Spain and Italy, sorry France and Italy, the State either penalises or incentivises supermarkets, companies not to do this so they don’t have that problem. I’d love to be part of the movement that would change, change the law so that there would not be hungry people in our society.

Elliot Moss
Last question Ben before we have to let you go and it’s been brilliant having you back, thank you. London in 2012 was one of the most positive places you could be on the planet. We are in 2018, it’s… everyone is feeling quite different. You personally, how positive are you about what’s going to happen and if people listening aren’t positive, what would you recommend?

Ben Elliot
Well I, like you, 2012 was a very, very special year and you had to pinch yourself. We were literally on this planet that we live in you know, the UK was brand number 1. This country is still the greatest country on our planet and we have to remind ourselves of it. Just because we are going to go through a divorce of kind with Europe, it does feel very uneasy and the reason why it feels most uneasy is that lots of people since 2008 have had no growth in their income and yet assets are clearly way more expensive so we are living in a more divided society. But there was a moment, and there are moments – I mean I went to America the day after Prince Harry got married to Meghan Markle – but what it reminded us all for a moment is this country has some attributes which nobody else has and so I think rather than beating ourselves up, we’ve got to get out on the front foot and go and tell the world that still the 2012 UK is still in our hearts and minds.

Elliot Moss
Vote Ben Elliot. Ben enjoy the bike ride, raise lots of money. We are all supporting you.

Ben Elliot
Thank you Elliot. Thanks’ guys.

Elliot Moss
We hope you enjoyed that edition of Jazz Shapers. You will find hundreds more guests available to listen to in our archive. To find out more just search Jazz Shapers in iTunes or head over to Mishcondereya.com/jazzshapers.

Ben Elliot

Quintessentially, a company engaged in the provision of concierge and luxury lifestyle management services through a network of subsidiaries, was founded in 2000 by Ben Elliot, Aaron Simpson and Paul Drummond. Co-Founder Aaron Simpson has said that the business idea came after Elton John asked him to go and buy Christmas cracker fillers, giving him a “few hundred thousand pounds in cash” to do so. The task, which was for a dinner party of 12, inspired him to think: “Why not create a company for time poor but cash rich people?” Aaron met lawyer Paul while studying at Oxford and was later introduced to Ben through Tom Parker Bowles. The trio created Quintessentially as a way to “access the inaccessible in London.” Concurrent to his role as co-founder, Ben is a non-executive Director of YouGov plc as well as a Co-Founder and Partner at Hawthorn, a corporate communications and reputation management consultancy. In addition, Ben is a Trustee of the Victoria & Albert Museum, The Eranda Rothschild Foundation and sits on the Board of the Royal Albert Hall. Ben is also Chairman of the Quintessentially Foundation, the grant giving arm of the Quintessentially Group.

“I’ve been working hard –to be a good husband and father. When you become a father you really do look differently at the world you live in.”

“If you have a good business and have committed people who work for you and the customers, it’s brilliant to bring them to places and charities you think are important.”

“The City of London has huge social problems. I think businesses should partner with charities to accelerate their progress and success.”

“Work hard and be nice to people – and enjoy yourself.”

“We have put our junior people in more senior positions. As the business gets bigger, of course there are more challenges, but our young talent has been given the right opportunities and responsibility.”

“I’ve always been philanthropic. When I did a paper round I didn’t want to do it for just my village, but three villages over.”

“I’ve considered being a Politician. I feel very politically committed.”

“If I think I can be more effective to drive social change outside of politics, then I’ll do that. If I think I can make more change as a politician, then I’ll do that.”

“I’ve learnt so much. I was intimidated when I went to my first Board meeting at the V&A, but unless you’re prepared to roll up your sleeves and make a difference, there’s no point in being there.”

“If you gave 3-4 extra days for your staff to volunteer, then, your staff, particularly millennial staff, will think better of you and be more productive.”