Ben Elliot is a co-founder of Quintessentially Lifestyle, the world’s leading private members’ club offering global concierge from over 60 offices around the world, 24hours a day, 365 days a year. Quintessentially Lifestyle has expert, on the ground, insider knowledge of every market they operate in and have developed over 32 sister businesses to meet the every need of its members. The Quintessentially ‘Elite Membership’ is a bespoke global service that offers the member their own personal concierge who proactively builds a profile for the member and seeks out activities, events and business networking opportunities to suit wherever they are travelling in the world. Ben Elliot is 37 years old, married with one son and lives in London.
What was life like growing up, did you always want to do something like this or was there another ambition?
We probably all have an experience from our childhood, which set you in good stead for the future. One of mine was editing the school magazine and managing to get an interview with Margaret Thatcher – one of the first after she left government – I then made every attempt to sell each and every copy of the magazine. I also as a child had pretensions to be a magician; my name was Merlin the Marvel.
How was Quintessentially conceived, and does the business today differ from the original idea?
It was conceived as a luxury concierge service for friends based either in / around London or for those who frequented London and didn’t have a PA or friend to gain them access to the capital’s sought after venues. Business, nevertheless, has boomed, and twelve years later, Quintessentially Lifestyle is a global lifestyle concierge with over 2,000 employees in over 38 countries, dedicated to the proposition that nothing is impossible. A few years ago when we wanted to expand to become a luxury lifestyle group, we decided we would not outsource any services and would take direct control in order to ensure the best standards. We focused on finding the leading authorities in every luxury field. So far we have over 32 sister businesses covering everything to do with luxury including travel, wine, art, personal shopping, private aviation and public relations. Last year we launched a recruitment section, Quintessentially People, to find the right individuals to meet some clients’ challenging staffing needs, from PAs and personal chefs to accountants.
How did it begin, how did you get those first few members, what was the first year like?
I was 24 when we started Quintessentially. Like most people who set up a business, I didn’t imagine it would grow so big. At the time, there were no concierge businesses so we saw a gap in the market when our various friends from London and abroad started asking about how to get into sold out shows, secure restaurant reservations, gain access to VIP events. Between the three of us we had a strong number of connections so decided to delve into the world of start ups. The name, Quintessentially, I think says it all – we just felt it encapsulated what we were trying to do, which is the very essence of what we do.
What advice would you give to any young person starting a business today?
I was always told to hold my own which is why I am probably so vocal in expressing my opinions because not only does it develop you as a person in terms of confidence but I like to think that it will encourage my colleagues and family to do the same. I was very lucky in that when I was growing up I was surrounded by people with strong personalities – I remember we’d sit round the table for Sunday lunch, all the family would try and attend, and not one person could get away with sitting in silence. My parents were not judgmental.
Has the economic climate affected Quintessentially in any way, have you seen any changes in spending habits?
No, we’ve seen quite the opposite. Last month we added a dedicated Russian team to our London offices due to the influx in Russian speaking clients coming into London so we’re still doing very well within the Russian market. While the United States and Europe continue to grapple with recession, Brazil’s economy gallops forward and we’ve seen this in the increase in requests for Elite Membership (top tier). They do not spend freely unless they feel at home, so our services have proved successful for this reason, as we’re receiving more membership enquiries than ever before.
Quintessentially has grown into a large business. How involved are you still with your members, do you still pick up the phone in the middle of the night?
As much as I ever was. I love it. However, not compared with the actual launch, when my partners and I slept with our phones next to our ears in order to be on hand 24/7 to cater to every member’s needs. I’m in our London office every day because I want employees and members to feel that they can approach me and tap into our experiences as it’s important to support those around you. I still meet with members / prospective members on a regular basis and often dine with them either at our offices at 29 Portland Place or at one of our partner restaurants. A lot of my work is about developing relationships with corporate partners such as Jaguar and Diageo and helping to create special experiences and opportunities for our members.
Last year you got married and you have recently had your first child (congratulations). Concierge is a 24/7 business, I would imagine you have had to alter your lifestyle, how have you found this?
My working life hasn’t changed too much – I don’t travel as much as I used to but that’s to be expected when you’ve been running a business for over 12 years. I still attend lots of meetings, various award ceremonies, dinners and launch events but I think it’s important to give my colleagues a chance to grow so I often extend my invitations to them so that they can develop as I did.
What has been the most extravagant request?
Most of the time, meeting unusual requests is less about throwing money at the problem and more about using our global database – knowing the right people to contact, for the right favour. A few years back we were asked by a member to arrange a private climb of Sydney Harbour Bridge so he could go up the bridge alone with his girlfriend to propose. We arranged this with one day’s notice. Our Hong Kong office arranged for the chef and crew of The Fat Duck to fly to Hong Kong to cater for a charity dinner last month while our London office just arranged for an elephant to be provided last minute for an Indian couple getting married in London, their original elephant had become lame on the morning of the wedding.
What has been the hardest request to full fill?
We helped our members during the Tsunami & Volcanic Ash disruption, which was extremely trying as on both occasions we had to race against time and manage a lot of expectations. Many of our members were involved in travel disruption during the Volcanic Ash episode and it was our job to get them from ‘A’ to ‘B’ as quickly as possible – I won’t go into some of the more complicated itineraries! Then there was getting Lionel Messi to sign a football for a children’s birthday party at a days’ notice the other week. That took some time but we got there in the end.
Do you ever properly switch off from Quintessentially and if so how?
That’s what weekends are for. I find my best weekends are spent in the country with my family and Clive, our dog. I love cycling and playing cricket in the summers too.
What are the three key elements that you think make a business successful?
A great service. A great staff who are committed and passionate. A great opportunity.
What do you look for in people when starting a business with them, would you say you are quite good at reading people?
Hope so! I should be good by now.
You must receive a few business plans, what do you look for when investing in new businesses?
Great people and a great idea.
How has the Quintessentially client base changed over the years, are there certain nationalities that are growing at a fast rate, have you seen a shift in the type of needs of your members?
Our expertise is in organizing bespoke travel, finding tickets, getting our members into the world’s best restaurants and private clubs and looking after them as the 24/7 best Personal Assistant in the world would – with an impressive international little black book. Our client base has grown with our company – from being largely London and New York centered to being truly global. As mentioned, we have more Brazilians signing up with us and though the Chinese are spending less, they find our services really useful as we save time and money.
You also have a philanthropic arm of the company, can you tell us more about this, why was it started and what do you hope to achieve?
Despite the economic crisis, Quintessentially is still expanding, but I’m well aware this is not the case for all businesses and that there are countless people at the sharp end of the recession. This is what inspired me to set up the Quintessentially Foundation in 2009, our philanthropic arm, which has raised £1.5 million so far for good causes. Most recently, the Foundation hosted its annual Bike Ride from London to St David’s Head, raising over £350,000 for Maggie’s Cancer Caring Centres. The Foundation has partnered with the Place 2 Be, SOS Children and Room to Read over the last 3 years and through their partnership has facilitated projects including a new Library in Kapungwe in Zambia for Room to Read and a new children’s village in Chipata for SOS Children.
The Foundation has high hopes for its forthcoming 2012 events; The Quintessentially Foundation Poker Night on 30th October in aid of The Prince’s Trust and the star studded Christmas Concert – The Fayre of St James on 29th November in aid of War Child.
What are the plans for the future, what’s next for you and Quintessentially?
We will continue to host some of the capital’s most exciting events but they will be bigger and better than ever before. We are looking to open more international offices and as for me, I’m looking forward to the Quintessentially Foundation annual Bike Ride – it could be going abroad for the first time so I’m already starting to round up support from fellow cyclists!
To find out more about quintessentially please visit quintessentially.com or call +44 (0)845 269 8585