Simon Elliot is Managing Partner and co-founder of boutique consulting firm 4xi Global Consulting & Solutions. He has spent his career in the employee amenities, and facilities space helping clients create great experiences in education, government, remote sites, and FORTUNE 100 companies worldwide.
Simon is a Fellow of the Institute of Directors, a Member of the Chartered Institute of Personnel & Development, and Institute of Leadership & Management, as well as Chair of the WORKTECH Academy for North America, and Global Ambassador.
Originally from the UK, Simon lives in the San Francisco Bay Area and has worked across North and South America, Europe, Africa, Asia, and Australasia. He is a mentor for women in FM with Plan-B, supports Raphael House, a shelter for homeless families in San Francisco, and formerly on the Board of the British American Business Council and non-profit Play Rugby USA.
What motivated you to start 4xi Global Consulting & Solutions? How did the idea come about?
I’ve long since recognized that there was an opportunity in the market to offer a different type of consulting. Those clients seeking practical support, work through opportunities, and develop solutions that challenge the status quo, for clients who want to create people-first experiences. Organizations who want to lead and not follow take charge of the conversation and transform their employee and consumer experiences to the next level.
The global pandemic was an accelerator for many, including 4xi. Many pre-existing issues and opportunities rose to the top, including the need for a people-first approach to employees, no matter where they may be, the rise in the use and adoption of collaboration technology, and in the light of many corporations downsizing, the opportunity to provide fractional expertise to fill the gaps.
What was your mission at the beginning of starting your business?
We wanted to create opportunities for meaningful impact. As a team, we have a world of experience across many different disciplines, specialisms, sectors, and importantly in-country experience across the globe.
At 4xi, we believe in the premise that our strength is in the power of our collective and resonates on so many different levels. From the team, we have on the ground across the US, EMEA, and LATAM, our carefully curated best-in-class Innovation Partners, and our collective thought leadership and combined brain trust that helps us innovate every day to help and support our clients.
Our mission is to drive positive change and impact, and inspire the future, together.
What do you attribute your success to? Is there a trait you have or a person who helped you along the way?
Success is an interesting term; it implies reaching a destination. We’re all on a journey. For 4xi, our point of departure was just a year ago, celebrating our first birthday at the end of July. We have made good headway, we are strong financially, we have built a solid team and client base and we continue our mission, and as my father once said, “One sure foot in front of the other.”
Many people have helped me along the way. Barbara Boden, Managing Partner, and co-founder of 4xi, and I got together. We were both coming out of corporate roles, me on the service provider side of the business, and she on the client-side with a major bank. We have supported each other through our formative stages, and we are now into our growth phase.
We have many friends in the business, but if I were to think about one, I think about my younger years in the UK, and my former boss, now friend and mentor Tim Cookson, now Chairman of Litmus Partnership, and how much he has taught me over the years. We continue to have regular connections and I never stop learning from him. Thank you, Tim!
And then, one of the humblest and most decent people I have ever met in business is Hans Lindh, former Senior Vice President of Aramark’s Global Client Group. He and I joined the business the same month and had many client adventures across the world together. I continue to appreciate his friendship, his wise words, and his support.
This type of support I value the most, and I try to give back and support others in any way that I can – paying it forward is important.
When times get tough, what would you say motivates you to keep going? To not hit the snooze button and to keep fighting for your goals.
I have had the good fortune to have lived and traveled worldwide to many legendary places and many of extreme poverty and despair. Those that don’t know where their next meal is coming from must walk miles for their most basic needs, including water and medical care, for those who are homeless or injured, maimed or ill – It is with the memories of these people I have met along the way, and their stories that remind me each day how very fortunate I am. This always levels me.
Then, as my father’s saying is always with me, the phrase, “Onward, always a little further,” is emblazoned in my heart and soul.
I come back to the point about success. For me, life (and business) is a journey. There is no destination, there is only how much impact you can make in the world while we’re still here. I feel that it’s a duty of each of us to make a positive impact in any way we can, care for our fellow people no matter where they are and leave the world a better place than when we entered it, whenever that may be.
Business without people is like an ocean without water. What are the things you look for in people to build your success?
I often read the wise words of Simon Sinek, and one of his masterclasses that resonates so well is that of Trust versus Performance, and how you can have the highest levels of performance and no trust, and that is all but worthless to a team. Even lower levels of performance with high levels of trust are more valuable. So, trust is the most important thing by far.
But trust takes time to build, and it is mutual. You must trust each other, and to achieve that, you need to have the same set of values and beliefs, be aligned in your focus, and even in times of adversity to always do the right thing.
They say that the definition of integrity is doing the right thing when no one is looking, and I agree with that wholeheartedly. It’s those traits that I try to demonstrate myself, and if we all expect the same high standards from each other, then people can be successful together.
I believe in together and how the power of the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. That same philosophy exists in the glorious game of Rugby, and through demonstrating civility, discipline, and respect always, we can all win together.
What is unique about your business? Is there a competitive advantage that you have over the rest?
When we created 4xi Global Consulting & Solutions, we thought hard about what we stand for and what we wanted to accomplish. Our name wasn’t by chance. 4xi represents our four constituents: Corporations, Service Providers, Innovators, and Accelerators (investors). The four X stands for: Experience, Explore, Extend and Expand. And the four i’s: Imagine, Inspire, Innovate, and Impact.
This captured the essence of our audience, our methodology, and our approach.
We knew that Global was important from not only coverage but having in-country knowledge. Providing consulting support to clients to work through problems and as a trusted advisor, then Solutions, we continue to curate our Explorers Innovation Directory, a list of best-in-class products, services, technologies, and ‘things’ that create impact.
Combined, we provide a unique level of support through the lens of hospitality and how we can create a better human experience at every level of our client organizations.
Is there a type of marketing that has worked amazingly for 4xi Global Consulting & Solutions? If so, how did you stumble upon it?
We believe that content marketing is key – not what you do but how it impacts clients. Not how you do it but how it tackles client challenges and solves problems. Not just opinions but backed up by experience, insights, and data.
Notwithstanding that, the more fundamental question is how well we listen, learn, understand what is important to clients, why, and therefore what the right mix of solutions is to solve their problem or appeal to their aspiration.
Unfortunately, in business, so many don’t truly grasp this, it’s a basis of any interaction, it's not about you, it’s about them.
I recently heard a story about Gandhi who was asked about his greatest lesson in leadership. He referred to his father, a tribal elder. How in the elders’ meetings they would sit around in a circle, and how his father was always the last to speak – it might seem strange at first to many, but without listening, learning, and truly understanding you cannot solve anything.
What are the three best pieces of advice that you would give to anyone starting a business? What do they need to know from the very beginning?
1 Be clear on your vision. What it is you want to set out to achieve – ask yourself the questions: why it’s important, do people care, does it add value, is it real. Don’t be put off by the answers but it's important to challenge your hypothesis because others will challenge you along your journey.
2 Map out your mission. Talk through your planned journey with trusted friends and colleagues. Don’t get diverted from your vision but be open and prepared to explore different paths – there’s more than one way up a mountain, across an ocean, or to discover new lands. The only constant in life (and business) is change. Be prepared. Be flexible, improvise, adapt to the circumstances, and overcome.
3 You will need to flex, be nimble, pivot along the way. You will need to deal with problems, crises, adversity, and setbacks. You will sometimes ask yourself why are you doing this, why don’t I go back to my proper job?
The one thing beyond a great vision and a well-thought-through mission plan that will optimize your chances of success is determination. Never, never, NEVER give up.
And above all, enjoy your journey, look around to admire the beauty of where you are today, it’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey.