Nick has now worked in the utilities sector for over 30 years, and has experience in the water, energy and rail industries. Find out about Nick’s path to becoming a Chief Executive and what he enjoys most about working at Energy & Utility Skills.
Nick Ellins, Chief Executive, Energy & Utility Skills Group
Tell us about your journey from starting out to your current role?
University wasn’t an option for me, so as soon as I left school I took various jobs in offices to get business experience. One involved working in sales, and over a number of years I got various promotions through companies until I had lots of customer and engineering experience, and moved in to senior sales and marketing management within contracting and manufacturing. A number of my closest customers and contacts were in the water industry.
I was surprised to be asked to join the main water policy body, my first ever job in policy. I led a number of initiatives aimed at widely different audiences. One was to engage City investors within regulatory price reviews, working with water company CEOs and economic regulators, like Ofwat. Another made a real impact on me and was a UK-wide public health partnership to promote the value of water to health. We secured new hydration standards for care homes, hospitals, schools and even prisons, and managed to beat all the bottled water suppliers to get tap water as the hydration partner of Sport Relief, part of Red Nose Day.
It was then I realised that a job in the utilities sector meant helping millions of people, and much of what we did was actually public health. We keep people warm and clean water flowing. We power their workplaces and homes, and take society’s waste away. A job in utilities also meant protecting the environment, supporting the economy and helping everyone from the local community to 65 million people across our nations. I was hooked.
"As a businessman, you simply learn to adapt to each new challenge."
The experience led to becoming the Head of Policy and Strategy within a government customer watchdog, and I was then made Deputy Chief Executive. I was twice elected to be the National President of the Institute of Water, and then as a consultant, undertook a fascinating spell managing the water industry’s response to the large 2012 drought. This took place just as the London Olympics were about to start. No regular days in the office for me!
I was then offered a completely new challenge, as Director of Policy for the train companies – something I knew nothing about. Within a short period the job became Director of Policy for trains, track and freight, and I was surrounded by talk of HS2 and franchising. I was though still working with people with a total passion for public service.
In 2015, I became Chief Executive of the Energy & Utility Skills Group. What I do now helps to ensure that those vital utility businesses across the UK have a resilient, skilled and sustainable workforce. I knew nothing about skills, but I did know the utility world. Everything that I learned along the way gave me the ability and the trusted relationships I needed. As a businessman, you simply learn to adapt to each new challenge.
What advice would you give to someone starting out in their career?
If you want to stand out from others, focus on your attitude and behaviours. There is not much you can completely control in work at the start of your career, but you have 100% control of you. A positive attitude and collaborative behaviours are what the main employers prize. Academic ability is clearly important, but many people have that yet don’t succeed. Look at the best in senior roles, and they have the right attitude to succeed, build excellent teams, have fantastic relationships with their people and are trusted by their key audiences.
What makes your role important?
Every business has to have one person that is ultimately responsible and accountable for taking the main decisions, and ensuring a safe and long-term future for the company. It’s my job to be that person, and ultimately set the tone of the organisation and take the difficult decisions.
My organisation is a trusted partner of the whole utility sector, and that brings with it expectations and responsibilities. It’s my job to think ahead, and make sure we are credible, we work well together and deliver tangible results. It’s a pleasure to be able to help a sector that spends its time and expertise delivering for all of us in society.
The Chief Executive role is both difficult and demanding, but it is a job I am proud to do.
"A job in utilities also meant protecting the environment, supporting the economy and helping everyone from the local community to 65 million people across our nations. I was hooked."
What do you do now and where do you do it?
As Chief Executive, I have two fundamental parts to my role. One is the day-to-day running and governance of the business. This includes working with my own Board, running a management team, and having around 65 people working for me. It covers management, strategy, sales, marketing, communication, finance and you are accountable for the business. My office is in the West Midlands.
The other side to my job is the creation and development of partnerships and relationships. This involves travelling - a lot of it – as I work with our members, policy makers, regulators, politicians, unions, training providers and others, right across the UK. I attend and speak at lots of conferences, meetings and events, and then get spoilt at lots of enjoyable award ceremonies - where I get to meet really talented people, hear from celebrities and often even get to be the judge.
Would you recommend your job to a friend?
Yes – 100%. My previous experiences, training and working relationships gave me the skills to deliver the job. If I can do it, you can. To be a Chief Executive, you do need to respect the responsibility and expectations of you, then understand it, embrace it, enjoy it and live it.
What are the elements of your job that you enjoy most?
There are three. The first is building high performing teams and watching them deliver. The second is delivering results, which I pride myself in. The third is meeting talented people from all different backgrounds, with totally different experiences and knowledge. Working with people who want to be the best they can be, is inspiring and great privilege.
If you enjoyed Nick's story, read some of our other motivating stories. If you're thinking about applying for a role, visit our Current Vacancies page.