Boss It Like

How To Boss It Like… Andrew Ellis, Head of Innovation at RBS

By Kitty Knowles 16 March 2017

This RBS leader is changing our world for the better. We find out how he gets the job done.

There are a handful of business leaders and industry figures in Britain who are changing the world.

From Tom Blomfield to Danae Ringelmann, and Jane Dumaresque, these smart people seem to get an incredible amount done, in an impossibly short space of time.

Today, as part of Future Finance month, we’re talking to Andrew Ellis, Head of Strategy & Head of Innovation, Commercial and Private Banking at RBS, who is undoubtedly a productivity guru.

Andrew Ellis is responsible for strategy and innovation at the Commercial and Private business within the Royal Bank of Scotland and NatWest.

Prior to Banking, he worked in consulting (he also holds a degree in Law and Economics), and the Yorkshireman has also spent time living in Holland and the USA.

He now lives in London with his Swedish wife and three kids, and (since joining from banking group ABN AMRO in 2008) has held various strategy positions within RBS.

Within RBS he’s covered a wide range of customer segments and propositions – from SMEs and large UK companies to high net worth individuals and now, business innovation.

Recently, Andy has been proud to lead on Nift and Esme at the bank – two fantastically innovative initiatives (Nift helps customers to simplify complicated contracts and Esme is an automated web based platform enabling rapid decision making and funding for SMEs).

A busy man, with big ideas, The Memo asked Ellis how he gets it all done.

What time do you get up, and what part of your morning routine sets you up for the day?

My 4-year-old son or my alarm clock usually wake me around 6.30.

I check my WhatsApp, my emails and the BBC website briefly just to just to double check all is okay in the world – I have 3 kids and I like to see them each morning, even if briefly.

Every day I have a breakfast of porridge, a bottle of water and a double espresso at my desk. If I’m distracted the porridge can travel around with me, getting cold until after 10.

What smartphone do you have?

IPhone 6 128gb, silver with a  protector after smashing 3 screens.

What do you use to be more productive?

I tried a Muse headset when I was over in California last – It’s a small band that measures brain activity and – according to my wellness consultant – I broke the record for first time meditation (measured by the tweeting of birds though a headphone).

Turns out I’m quite a competitive meditator.

I sometimes run or cycle home – though I’m increasingly wary of the pollution in London – when I do I tend to have lots of ideas and thoughts which I then capture send out soon as I get home. I capture my times on Strava but I’m not keen on too much transparency with others regarding my fitness – as the years go by I see my times (like my age) as a private matter

I also find podcasts extremely relaxing and rewarding. They hold my attention much more than newspapers. I’m currently working my way through the archive of Desert Island Discs but my current business favourites are ‘a16z’ and ‘11:FS (Fintech Insider)’ as they are great way of hearing first hand on right up to date insights from the players in the start up world. I also follow The Economist and FT Banking Weekly regularly.

My wife works at Love Knitting, a high growth digital knitting start up (yes, it’s true) she tries to get me to knit to relax but I think that’s a step too far. It does provide me with day-to-day insights into a start up however.

Last week I took my team to improv lessons. It was great and they were game. The instructions said wear loose clothing that you’d be comfortable getting on all fours in and barking like a dog. It wasn’t as bad as it sounds.

How many people, outside of family, do you meet in a day?

It depends. On average 20 I’d say. I have 3 teams – 2 in the City and one at Coutts in the Strand.

I also spend a lot of time talking to externals in my ecosystem such as consultants and fintechs. I find myself increasingly speaking at internal events within RBS which is rewarding as more people want to hear what we are up to, so I speak at town halls etc once a week or so.

Also, I do British military fitness in Hyde Park at least twice a week. It’s very sociable as you have to partner up, introduce yourself and talk about what you’ve done this week and then do lots of burpees and press ups together.

Apparently working out outside and with others is very good for the mind!

The Meeting of Antony and Cleopatra, as painted by L. Alma Tadema. Pic: Wikimedia Commons
The Meeting of Antony and Cleopatra, as painted by L. Alma Tadema. Pic: Wikimedia Commons

What book have you read, either recently or in the past, that has inspired you?

When I studied Shakespeare’s Anthony and Cleopatra at ‘A’ level I learnt the immense satisfaction it is to study a work in great detail, over and over.

Bit of a coming of age moment.

What advice would you give for people who are eager to get into your industry?

Don’t specialise too early. Try things and move regularly – it gets harder over time. Much of banking is shrinking in terms of traditional roles so find a growth area.

I heard a metaphor the other day which I liked; ‘ imagine you are paddling a kayak and always try and find the fast water’, which translates into good career advice: it’s much easier to progress and find interesting things to do when in the ‘fast water’.

Also, be a ‘squeaky wheel’ and make sure you ‘get some oil’. Human nature means that we often make the ‘easy people decision’ to avoid conflict so don’t let your boss off the hook!

When do you work until? Are you still sending emails in the night? Or do you have a wind down routine?

Yes. Emails, obviously. Especially after I run or cycle home I have a store of ideas to capture/share.

My wife works full time so we tend to work quite late and then watch an episode of a box set to relax (current favourites are Billions and we just finished off Silicon Valley, which is hilarious.

If you could ask your idol one question, who would it be, and what would you ask?

I’m not really into idols. However the story that always really moves me is that of Alan Turing because of the amazing things he did for us and the terrible way that he was treated.

If I met him I’d say thanks for shortening the war by two years and, by the way, also for creating modern computing – where would we be today without them?!

I’d also tell him about how much better and more open the UK is today and how a successful Internet (which I’d try and explain to him) petition led to a posthumous pardon.

I’d also give him a brief update on artificial intelligence and inform him that we still haven’t beaten the Turing test – but we are getting closer.

Come back next Thursday for our next #BossItLike interview, and get in touch if you know a leader who’s also a productivity guru for us to talk to.