Getting To Know You: Gavin Snell, CEO, Ellis Whittam

Gavin Snell, Ellis Whittam

In the past 3 months, Ellis Whittam has delivered record levels of service, supporting existing clients, plus providing free tools and resources to all business owners and managers through their Coronavirus Advice Hub.

We talked to Gavin Snell, CEO, Ellis Whittam about what defines their way of doing business.

What do you currently do at Ellis Whittam?

As CEO, my role is to lead our business to achieve its ambition and purpose for our shareholders, employees, clients and partners. So essentially that’s all about our why, what and how?

No matter what your position is, I believe it’s important to have clear focus areas – and I have five that are inter-related::

  1. Facilitating and communicating our strategy, ambition and purpose – making sure that we are clear where we are going and can relate that to every role across the business.
  2. Doing everything possible to maintain and build on our internal culture of engagement.
  3. Listening to our market voice – our customers, competitors, influences, and so on – to ensure that we are evolving relevant propositions, marketing, and our service delivery platform.
  4. Encouraging, deciding & resourcing innovative ideas on business improvement.
  5. Safeguarding a sustainable future for Ellis Whittam and its employees through a combination of governance and risk assessment approaches – engaging with critical shareholders and third parties.

Most importantly, I care about how I do it – with energy, positivity, objectivity, while being compassionate and humble.

What was the inspiration behind your business?

Decisions and practices about employees and the workplace are hugely relevant to small & medium sized businesses. Business owners, MDs and functional heads are typically under-resourced and lack knowledge on these key subjects, so they are vulnerable. Our inspiration came from wanting to be acknowledged as the highest quality provider of advice and services to address and protect businesses. Another motivation was to break the traditional law firm practice model, providing a real alternative to an extortionate pay-as-you-go fee model.

Really importantly, the business was founded on some very basic principles – integrity, trust and doing the right thing – and those principles permeate everything we do. If we need to spend another 5 minutes to provide extra advice, or offer a payment holiday to a struggling customer then that is what we do. Our reputation means everything to us.

Who do you admire?

I admire a lot of people for different reasons; Nelson Mandela for his strength and humility and Roger Federer for his amazing durability and respectful demeanour. But today I choose to admire Jacinda Ardern (Prime Minister of New Zealand), mainly because her leadership style resonates with me.

Looking back, is there anything you would have done differently?

I am not the kind to regret and that includes most of my own personal career choices (including staying with my first employer for 24 years and completing four international assignments).  But of course we have to learn from mistakes and I make plenty of those! Over my career, some of the biggest mistakes I’ve made have been about recruiting and appointing people. I’ve learned that the biggest advantage you can have is to be surrounded by people that are brighter than you andwho bring competencies and styles that both challenge and complement your own. I believe that we have that at Ellis Whittam.

What defines your way of doing business?


I like to be clear about what we are trying to do, although I won’t be the person who solely determines that plan. Critically, that plan must be ambitious in the prevailing context. I managed a business through the 2007-2010 recession, and we achieved some remarkable things (not least NPD and cost management). I want to believe and trust in the leadership teams that are accountable for delivering that plan, so vest considerable time in helping managers understand the effect of their styles and attitudes.

Ideally, colleagues feel empowered and inspired because we create a culture which recognises and nurtures talent. All businesses (and business units) I have ever worked in have not done enough to foster and develop internal talent. I want to be compassionate and supportive when the time needs it, but also not shirk the difficult discussion when that’s needed. Critically, that is with individuals whose attitude resists the very culture we are aspiring for. 

What advice would you give to someone starting out?

Firstly, find an industry, an organisation and a role that interests you. Your working life is too long to cope with mediocrity – if the first one is just not right, then move and find what does interest you! Don’t kid yourself when making those choices, don’t let money be the sole determinant of your choice and stay in control – no organisation or manager has the right to dictate your career!

When you are applying to potential employers, be both INTERESTED and INTERESTING.

Be interested in what the company does, do your research to demonstrate your initiative and understanding and ask great insightful questions!  Employers don’t just want someone, they want a special one. Be interesting by relating what you bring to the role and the business; make yourself distinctive because you’re not the only choice! Always use practical examples to demonstrate your claim.

And I’d apply all the above just as much to when you are in work. Be visible, make sure that both your demeanour and appearance demonstrate your energy levels. Commit yourself, take initiative and don’t be frightened to ask for feedback – it’s a sign of strength!