Sir Vernon Ellis
Vernon Ellis is Chair of the British Council, the UK’s International Cultural Relations organisation. Prior to taking up this appointment in 2010, he was at Accenture for 40 years, the leading business and information technology consulting organisation, where he was International Chairman. He is very much involved in the arts, particularly music. He was Chairman of the English National Opera and is now its President. He is also the Chairman of the National Opera Studio and was a Trustee of the Royal College of Music for six years. Through the work of his own Foundation, he supports a wide range of arts organisations and hosts around 90 concerts a year at his home in London. He is also Chairman of Martin Randall Travel, the leading cultural tours company, and of One Medicare, a company providing primary healthcare services within the NHS. He is a Non-Executive Director of FTI Consulting Inc. He was knighted in 2011 for services to music, has been awarded a Hon D Litt (London) by Goldsmiths College and is a Fellow of the Royal College of Music.
My central passion is music and opera. Not long after I had been in the right place at the right time when Accenture became a public company, an appeal was launched to fund the restoration of the Coliseum, home to English National Opera (ENO), of which I had recently become a director. They needed a major donation in order to get sufficient private funding which would trigger public funding. Without too much thought I made one. It just seemed to be the right thing to do. There will always be a strong element of impulse driven by instinct with any gift, but perhaps there can and should be more to it than that alone.
At the time, I also formed a family foundation in order to channel my gifts in an effective way. Most, but not all, have been to music organisations in which I have some involvement. Much continues to be instinctive, particularly with smaller gifts. But gradually I have become more interested in making the money I give work harder. A major influence has been my role at Accenture, where I chair our global Corporate Citizenship activities. We have been putting increasing focus on where we can link our skills to our money and see how we can make a difference in a sustainable manner.
Another influence has been Mission, Models and Money, which is a research and action programme aimed at creating a more sustainable future in the arts sector. One strand of the work looks at moving beyond revenue grants towards investing in the future. A simple example of an investment is my participation in syndicates supporting the purchase of instruments for string players - giving me a very direct and long-term interest in their career. But more often it is about thinking of grants more in terms of investing in the future - such as supporting ENO and Classical Opera Company young singers schemes and ensuring that these are effective. The reward comes from seeing the singers' amazing development at first hand. But I can get equal pleasure from making interest-free loans to support, for example, marketing initiatives or longer-term investments in new income-producing activities. In this way, my limited resources get stretched further, and hopefully I can also promote longer-term sustainability in these organisations.
And there is a lovely convergence now with music activities at my own home. We host varying activities, including concerts to help artists to prepare for concerts or for competitions, charity events, fund-raising concerts for organisations like British Youth Opera or the OAE, and rehearsals and master classes. As I write this, I am listening to two young artists preparing for their first concert at the Salzburg Mozarteum. Also, the administrator who helps me with events and my foundation is also now helping with the administration for a young string quartet that is setting up a trust to support a new festival. The pleasure comes from knowing that I can make a difference to both artists and musical organisations through the combination of my time, money, administrative support and my home space.
(adapted from Artistic inspiration by Vernon Ellis Philanthropy UK Newsletter, March 2007)