Man on a mission: 5 minutes with Glenn Elliott
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Glenn Elliott is on a mission to make the world a happier place to work. He set up employee engagement technology firm, Reward Gateway, ten years ago, and has since grown the business into a global company serving clients across continents. As a third-time UK winner of EY Entrepreneur of the Year awards for Business Products and Services, Eliott has big plans for the employee benefits market. Here’s what makes him tick.
Name: Glenn Elliott
Name of business: Reward Gateway
Your business’ USP: Helping companies to attract, engage, and retain employees with employee engagement technology that offers employee perks, employee recognition, employee wellbeing, communication and employee feedback tools – all in one place.
Location: We service clients from Boston, London, Birmingham, Sydney and Melbourne and we have support centres in Bulgaria and Macedonia.
Date Launched: 2006
Number of employees: 330
Revenue in the last financial year: £187 million
What are the top three lessons you’ve learned along your business journey?
Put people first, then product – that’s what will make clients love you. And if you do that you won’t need to sweat it on profits, they’ll come come naturally.
The biggest mistake to make with communications (internal or external) is to think it’s been completed – it never has, you never stop communicating
Being a good leader means doing what is right for the organisation as a whole, which not everyone will see or understand at the time you do it. You can be a popular and respected leader whilst making unwelcome changes if you make them with honesty and integrity. Overall, people judge you on the totality of what you all achieve together and over time they understand the tough calls you make.
What was your first job and why did you leave?
Aged 15, I was a runner for the sub-editors at the local newspaper office on a Saturday. Stories were corrected on paper and I put them up pneumatic tubes to the printing press and bought sandwiches and cigarettes for the sub-editors. My role was replaced by new technology – a network of Amstrad PC’s!
Complete the sentence: If I wasn’t a business leader, I would be…
I’m a software engineer at heart, I grew up as a tech, a nerd and I always joke with our IT Manager, Andy, that I’ve always thought he had the best job – fiddling about with wires!
What is your favourite achievement?
Building a (mostly) happy organisation where people feel fulfilled and achieve things they didn’t think they were capable of. And showing that you can build a really successful and profitable organisation by putting people first and being human.
What is the most difficult business lesson you’ve learned?
Oh heavens, I have learned so many difficult lessons – I have made a million mistakes! I’m creative and ambitious for us, so I generate a lot of ideas and one of the hardest things I’m still learning is that we can’t do all of them or even many of them – focus is really key in business. I think it was Michael Porter who said “Strategy is what you choose not to do” and I learned that a long time ago, but I do need to keep relearning it as it’s not my default behaviour!
What is one must-read book or must-view film for business leaders?
Beyond Measure by Margaret Heffernan is absolutely my book of the year – incredible work on the need to build social capital in organisations, it’s the “mortar between the bricks” in your organisation. A short book packed with great value.
Who are your business role models and why?
I have huge respect for what Nick Jones and the team at Soho House are doing – how they are scaling that brand whilst keeping it unique and maintaining customer service is amazing, I’d love to see their training, it must be exceptional, the standards are so consistently high across all of their sites.
Arianna Huffington has had a big impact on my life, her work on wellbeing and sleep in particular. And American researcher and storyteller Brene Brown – her work on shame and vulnerability has had a huge impact. It’s the core of creativity and without understanding it you can’t build a great business fuelled by innovation – if you haven’t seen her TED Talks then stop reading this and rush on over there!
Do you have a hobby, talent or interest that might surprise people?
I can do a 32kg Turkish Get Up (a total body weight training workout), but only on the right side at the moment – 28kg on the left. And I make a great trifle. But not at the same time.
What is the best piece of leadership advice you have received?
“Be as honest with your people as you can, as early as you can. They can handle anything if you’re honest with them – it’s the cover ups, mistruths and lies that lose trust and break the culture.”
What’s next for you and your business?
We’re the market leader in the UK and Australia and we’re continuing to invest hard in new products and services there, whilst my personal push is over in the US where I’m helping the team build out our US business from our new HQ in Boston that is opening in Spring 2017. In four years time, I hope we’ve doubled the size of our UK and Australian businesses and made the US the fastest growing part of our organisation.