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Nov 22, 2021

Digging into the DNA of Brand Genetics: A Conversation with CEO Tom Ellis

By
Drew
Welton

CEO & Co-Founder of Bamboo Crowd. Working with our talented teams in London and New York, I help our clients bring innovation to life through hiring world-class Thinkers, Makers & Leaders.

Article title

The day we spoke to Tom Ellis for this story, he was celebrating his ten year anniversary with Brand Genetics: an independent brand growth consultancy that specializes in the area of front-end insight, strategy, and innovation. Tom joined Brand Genetics in 2011 as a Director; he is now the CEO and Co-Owner of the consultancy.

To better understand how Brand Genetics helps its clients adapt to a changing world, let’s use beer as an example—perhaps in the spirit of Tom’s anniversary celebration. “Most clients tend to see the world through their own lens,” Tom said. It’s a natural human tendency. For example, someone working in the beer industry will “see their world as a brewer and worry about other brewers, or, maybe, if they’re enlightened, [they’ll worry about] other drinks.”

“Now, you and I, when we shop the aisles, we’re thinking, oh, I fancy a beer, but it’s less about, do I have Budweiser or Miller? [Rather, it’s more like] I’m going to a barbeque, I’m hanging out with my mates, let me grab something that will suit that occasion. That might be beer, seltzer, or wine. The idea is, I’m trying to create a great engagement with my friends. And there are lots of different ways of doing that,” Tom said.

“By taking that wider aperture, looking from the outside in, lots of people just talk about [being] consumer-centric, but that immediately says, I’m a BEER consumer and therefore I’m going to think about all the other BEERS that I might consume,” Tom said.

Instead, Brand Genetics solves challenges with a human-first mindset.

By going human, we think you see more opportunity, we think we have a better opportunity to help your end consumer because you’ve seen the wider needs of their lives.
Tom Ellis, CEO & Co-Owner of Brand Genetics

Brand Genetics helps clients connect their products—in this case, a beverage—not just to a brand or a bottle but to the feeling and the experience they desire—a good time with friends.

“Ultimately, we think that leads to positive innovation. Which is innovation that drives the wellbeing and happiness of your consumer. Sometimes we’re just helping to make a chocolate bar that makes people smile a little bit more that day,” Tom said. For Brand Genetics, being human first and driving positive innovation is both a mission and a point of difference.

“We’ve managed to take this sort of [human-first] thinking and find a way to really apply it to clients [in a way] that they get. That’s not always easy,” Tom said. “It makes our team feel like we’re doing something worthwhile.” 

Smart, Heart, and Self-Start

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Tom describes his consultancy as “small but very much global”. “We’ve tried to [grow] in a manageable way. It’s steady progress, which is perhaps what I’m most proud of,” Tom said. Brand Genetics currently employs about two dozen people, and plans to open an office in New York next year. 

What type of talent will he look for? “We’ve always tried to live our lives human-first internally as well,” Tom said. He boils down the traits he looks for: Smart, Heart, and Self-Start.

  • When it comes to smart, “we talk about striving for excellence, not perfection. We talk about having high-performing teams. And that means constantly challenging ourselves and re-assessing what [success] looks like,” Tom said.
  • “The heart is: you’re engaged, you’re passionate, you’re willing to bring yourself and your perspective. We value diverse perspectives, but you can have a whole lot of diversity and everyone has a Harvard MBA,” Tom said. “How do we find people who think differently? That’s the way we’ll solve challenges.”
  • Self-start means people with an entrepreneurial spirit, who are willing to “have a go” and push themselves. “We talk about breaking new ground in the way we do things. We’re not afraid to try something different, to make mistakes,” Tom said.

So, what does heart, smart, and self-start get you? One heck of a team. “It’s the idea of a high-performing team. We want to be a team, we want to work together. We want to respect one another. We can all enjoy a night out together. But when it comes down to doing the work, we believe you can have fun and do great work,” Tom said.

A Recruiting Partner on the Same Wavelength

It’s exactly those traits—heart, smart, and self-start—that led Tom and others to “slightly balk” at recruitment consultants and fees, early on. It ran counter to their entrepreneurial spirit. “We’ve done a lot of hiring through our own network, and we have a good internship program,” Tom said.

“But there came a point where we realized we’ve exhausted the extent of that and we weren’t seeing the wealth and breadth of talent that we needed to go to the next level,” Tom said. “That’s when we started saying, OK, who do we want to work with? We wanted people who really got us,” Tom said. That’s where Bamboo Crowd enters the picture.

I’d always had Drew [Welton] and the Bamboo Crowd proposition in the back of my mind, because it felt like they were of a similar scale. [Bamboo Crowd] had big ambitions, they wanted to do something different and innovative, it just felt like they were on a wavelength with us. When you’re small and looking for partners, cultural fit is key.
Tom Ellis, CEO & Co-Owner of Brand Genetics

“One of the things that really impressed us was the attention to the employer brand, and the real sense that they wanted to get under the skin of what we did so they could find the right people for us,” Tom said. 

It’s easy for other recruiters to just pump out candidate after candidate, Tom explained. “There’s a myriad of consultants and consultancies—not all of them match up. That gave us real reassurance, that value match, that sense of really wanting to understand us. It was key in our journey,” Tom said.

It’s a challenging labor market for firms looking to acquire top talent. Fears of COVID-19 remain, as does economic uncertainty, and, for many firms, the hiring process itself has transformed into virtual recruiting and onboarding. “It’s a tough market out there, but we’ve got exciting plans. It comes back to diverse perspectives. We know we need to continue to push, in our industry, what diversity looks like because by the time we’re looking for candidates with experience you’re actually already sort of down a fairly narrow path,” Tom said.

The right recruitment partner can help consultancies like Brand Genetics support diverse perspectives through non-traditional sources of talent. For example, one untapped talent pool is the myriad of recent moms and dads who bring unique capabilities to the table and are actively seeking new opportunities with flexible employers. Further, people with non-traditional educational backgrounds very often present a rare blend of skills, output, and the right attitude.

We’re thinking about ways that we can widen the net by getting people who come from non-traditional sources and backgrounds. As employers and recruiters, we all need to find ways that aren’t just paying lip service, but actually putting in place structural ways we can start to shift this.
Tom Ellis, CEO & Co-Owner of Brand Genetics

For Tom, it all comes back to hiring the people who can help Brand Genetics drive that human-first, positive innovation for clients. “We’re always looking for people who raise the bar for us. Do we think this person raises the bar? Do they bring something new to the party? A lot of the people who Bamboo Crowd get, maybe naturally, because of the way [they] position people, are bar-raisers,” Tom said.

We look forward to helping Brand Genetics continue to raise the bar and recruit top talent with heart, smart, and self-start traits. Interested in joining Tom in London, New York, or elsewhere? Check out the open positions at Brand Genetics or get in touch with Drew Welton to explore other human-first opportunities, no matter where you are.

Drew Welton
Meet Drew

CEO & Co-Founder

Executive Search - Innovation & Strategy — London

Someone whose work can genuinely drive business growth…we wouldn't have gotten this far, this quickly, without you

CEO and Managing Partner, Bow & Arrow