Ann Ellis | 40 Outstanding Global Women 2023
If you want to know where global mobility and international management are going next, then it might be good to ask Ann Ellis. Spotting an opportunity to help people on the move back in 1996, Ann and her husband, John, established her employer of record business Mauve.
“As well as supporting women in companies, networks like Think Women and events to mark International Women’s Day are so important – for women to talk to each other and discuss the challenges they have”
Ann Ellis, Co-Founder and CEO at Mauve
“I’ve always loved a challenge,” says Ann “I think doing what I’ve been doing in the last 26 years has been continual challenge. I really enjoy that.”
Developing from its origins in a windowless office in Italy – leading Ann to nickname it ‘the company in a cupboard’, Mauve is now a multinational company operating in 64 countries – and covering many more – and employing 90 staff, Mauve is equipping all kinds of businesses and international organisations with the tools they need to expand internationally, thrive and grow.
Its services include company set-up, employer of record, international payroll and compliance, local HR and contracts consultancy, international market research, risk assessments and project management.
Addressing the challenges to help businesses grow globally
In many ways, Ann and her husband John have built a company ahead of its time and one always poised for the future. Mauve was one of the first companies in this now booming and highly competitive sector of the global mobility services market.
“In the early days when computers really started, we had online banking and nobody else seemed to have that, so we’ve always been ahead of the times,” says Ann.
With resilience and agility core features of the business, Mauve is continuing to grow. The company has tripled in size since the pandemic when international remote working became a vital solution to lockdowns and relocation lifecycles thrown into uncertainty.“We have always had remote workers, so when the pandemic happened, we didn’t find it that difficult to adapt and continue supporting our clients. Our systems were all on the Cloud, most employees had laptops and this way of working wasn’t something new for us.”
The pandemic raised financial and immigration compliance – already top of the Global Mobility and international HR managers’ agenda – even higher. Yet for Ann, who has worked in this challenging area for almost three decades, supporting employers to manage this business-critical arena was an opportunity.
Taking and making opportunities
Ann, who started her career in teaching, has carved a role for Mauve at the forefront of this emerging sector by having the confidence and focus to take and make opportunities. Mauve was created when her husband was relocated by telecommunications firm, Orange, to northern Italy to help install its networks.
“He was one of Orange’s first 30 employees and there when it was launched,” says Ann. “Then he and his colleagues were headhunted to go and help set up networks outside of the UK. He was lucky to get offered a contract in Italy. I had studied languages and I loved Italy so when he said, ‘I’ve been offered a job in Italy’, I was like, ‘when are we leaving?’
“We moved to Italy in 1995. John and his colleagues needed to be paid in different currencies, so we decided it would be easiest to set up our own company. We invoiced on their behalf, made sure they were compliant in the country they worked in, and worked on getting them visas and registered on local payroll, then paid them their salaries and made sure they were paying their taxes in the country they were working. That was how we set up the company initially.“We then just followed the likes of Nokia and Ericsson as they grew and built networks all over the world. We supported them by employing the engineers and making sure they were compliant in-country.”
Again turning a challenge into a growth opportunity, in 2010 after the global financial crisis, Mauve decided to extend its offering to anyone who wanted to have support working, expanding or projects overseas.
“We went to our first conference and expo, in the US, in Atlanta – SHRM – with 12,000 attendees,” says Ann. “We had a stand and in those days nobody understood what we did. ‘Well, we employ people on behalf of other companies when they don’t want to set up their own companies.’
“Obviously, since then, in the last few years this sort of service has become extremely popular. And that’s where we are today. We are offering this service now to any industry. We work a lot with NGOs, with universities and any sort of educational industry, tech companies – everyone really.”
Building a global business
The next step for Mauve is the launch this spring at Wales Week London of Mauve Cymru. The event comes just after the announcement of Air India’s record-breaking deal with Airbus, which will see the wings of the jets manufactured in Wales in another boost to the Welsh economy.
The launch of Ann’s new company is a sign of confidence in Wales’s attractiveness, both for global businesses looking to invest, and businesses already based in Wales looking to export their products and services and expand internationally.
“What’s nice about Mauve Cymru is that I’ve gone out of Wales, travelled the world and had an opportunity to set up companies in over 60 countries and now gone full circle and come back to Wales to support Welsh companies that want to expand. I’m excited about that.”
Everyone at Mauve is also thrilled to have won the Women in Business award from the International Trade Council at an event in October in Estonia. “I’m also really proud and chuffed about this. Demetra and Teresa had to do a five-minute pitch in front of the audience and we went on to win the award.”
This accolade and Mauve’s growth story are testaments to the professionalism and skills of Ann’s team, as well as the leadership culture in the company that understands the importance of people as individuals in the workplace. “I like to be collaborative,” says Ann. “I like being operational. I’m not one of these CEOs that sits in my office. I like to be involved and approachable. People come to me if they’ve got any issues or problems. I like to be there for anybody.
“I also like to be innovative and I have lots of ideas, but I’m happy to delegate to implement those ideas too. I also like to think I am adaptable and flexible. I think that also links to the fact that I love change. To me, it’s always about looking forward.”
This foresight is seeing Ann continue to expand her networks and offer support and guidance to other women leaders and entrepreneurs around the world. “From the time I started Mauve in 1996, I can see things have changed a lot for the better and I want to get more involved in supporting women in business.“I’ve just had a call from a lady in banking about promoting and supporting women in business. She is interested in me getting involved so I’m quite excited about that. I’ve got involved in networks in Dubai. There’s a lot of networking going on there now with women in business.
“In telecoms when I started, there were no women. The only women then were HR managers. Most of the engineers working on these projects were men. But I do see that changing now, especially in tech. The difficult thing now for women in particular is trying to balance looking after the children and family aspect and the business aspect. I still think that is so difficult to balance. With hybrid work, it is easier sometimes.
”As well as supporting women in companies, networks like Think Women and events to mark International Women’s Day Ann says are “so important for women to talk to each other and discuss the challenges they have.”
“As women, I do think we are very supportive of each other. The last Think Women event was at the IOD in 2020 just before the pandemic. That was a really good meeting. It was lovely to hear other women’s stories. These sorts of events are really important for listening to other people’s experiences as well and these networks are growing all the time.”
“Building a business, it’s always important to feel confident,” continues Ann. “Just focus on your aims and keep to them and not give up. You need to stay confident and feel that you are capable of doing what you want to do. Keep whatever you have in your mind as your ultimate aim.”