Ellis Watson

Ellis Watson

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Business Leader

To book Ellis Watson please contact your JLA Agent.


Ellis has headed a national newspaper business, turned around the Greyhound Bus operation in the US and ran Simon Cowell’s Syco Corporation before he took charge of Scottish media group DC Thompson, steering them into the digital age with interests from local newspapers to cloud computing. In barn-storming speeches, brimming with humour and original thinking, Ellis shows how to deal with disruptive forces, create a positive culture, and inspire enthusiasm throughout the organisation and move from mission statement to fighting spirit: “There’s no point in waiting and hoping for a wave; go and create one yourself.”


In a varied executive career Ellis Watson has turned-around, rebranded, overhauled, reinvigorated, and expanded global businesses from entertainment to transport.

Ellis’s first break came as Marketing Director at The Sun, later reporting directly to Rupert Murdoch as his first Head of Digital. He then became CEO of Celador International, taking Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? to over a hundred countries. He was lured back to Fleet Street as MD of Mirror Group Newspapers, giving him his first leadership role in a PLC.

Ellis then led distribution and logistics business John Menzies, before joining the board of FirstGroup to turn-around the fortunes of iconic transport behemoths like Greyhound across the Americas. This latter role saw him radically challenge a culture of low morale, poor service, and bad public perception across a vast, overstretched network.

As global CEO of Simon Cowell’s Syco Corporation, Ellis took an array of record labels and programme formats, including the X Factor and Got Talent formats, to international success. Whilst at Scottish media group DC Thomson, he helped steer the world’s largest family-owned media empire into a resilient, future-proofed organisation by transforming the group’s business models, brands and commercial direction.

He has just become Chief Business Advisor to the First Minister of Scotland, where he helps shape the government’s strategy for the private sector.

Ellis challenges, motivates, and advises with an original insight, enthusiasm and humour that is rare amongst senior business figures. Whether it’s the wrecking-ball nature of the digital revolution or shifts in the economic environment, he argues that external shocks and disruption can be a springboard for positive change. He shows how to inspire passion when under pressure, and how to progress from mission statements to true company culture, embracing quality, integrity, and understands more about getting the best from a diversified workforce as Gen Z gives way to Gen A.

In presentations Ellis argues that we should stop being busy, and start being productive, and believes you can take some control about the impact you’re going to have. There’s only a handful of people who have been asked to do multiple Ted Talks, & audiences soon find first hand why Ellis is one of them.  With fascinating views on leading through disruption, embracing a change culture, and dealing with the complexities of governance and talent management, Ellis is known as one of the most inspiring, intelligent, and entertaining keynote speakers in the country.

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Agent Recommendation

If you want a speaker to spout the latest management theory, don't book Ellis. If you want enthusiasm and practical tips to equip your team for the challenge, you can’t do better. Ellis has been entrusted with turning around sizeable outfits, so when he talks about reigniting the passion in an organisation you know his words aren’t hot air. He really has been there and done it. JLA Agent Tom Mclaughlin

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