5 Questions With

Tom Ellis, president and founder of the Ellis Group
Jun 5, 2018
Deborah C. Gerbers
Steve Vorderman
5 Questions With

The president and founder of private equity firm The Ellis Company shares his secrets to success in business, life and everything in between.

Q1: How did you set out to start your business?
I started by buying small companies, building them up and selling them. I worked my way up to buying larger companies each time. I looked for well-established, well-managed and profitable companies that came up for sale. These are businesses that mainly struggle with an ownership issue, while the company may be performing quite well and everyone is happy. Lots of reasons force good companies to sell. My goal is to stay away from high-risk venture capital and turnaround situations; I am more of a finance person than a management person. My strength lies in hunting business opportunities and evaluating them, and then bringing capital and management to those opportunities.

Q2: How do you measure success, both in business and in life?
In life, I think, it’s finding a place in the world where you are happy. If you’re happy, that’s all that really matters… if you have a good family, good friends and close relationships, then that equals happiness in my opinion. I have been so blessed – I have a great family and we are all very close. My dad is still working, and has an office right here, so I get to see him all the time. For me, knowing I have a great family to come home to, life is good.

Success in business lies in providing a great work environment for employees, as well as having satisfied customers who speak highly of your company and its performance. And, providing my investors a higher rate of return on their investment than expected is also important. Having happy shareholders who plan to reinvest in the future is one of our goals. 

Q3: Do you have a particular business philosophy you adhere to when running a business?
Many businesses do not succeed because they are overextended and try to grow too fast without a proper strategy. These are good businesses, but eventually they run out of steam. Sometimes, putting growth controls on businesses allows them to grow at an appropriate rate without unnecessary risk; in other words, a ‘carrot on a stick’ mentality. 

Q4: Who are the most influential people in your life, and how have they had an impact on you? 
The most influential person would probably be my father. He had his own business, and he showed me how to run a successful business and to be a good businessperson. He taught me how to be accountable to both customers and employees. The second most influential person would be Dr. Haeberle, my finance professor at Indiana University School of Business. During my senior year, I still did not know exactly what I wanted to be, but I was fortunate enough to take one of Dr. Haeberle’s classes. It was all about how to find businesses, evaluate them, structure them, finance them and purchase them. With proper management in place, it’s then possible to purchase another business after that. His guiding light was this: the surest, safest and fastest way to acquire wealth is to buy well-established, well-managed, profitable businesses – and then expand them for either a capital gain or to use them as a foundation on which to buy more businesses. That was the inspiration of my life that truly struck me.

Q5: What do you anticipate for yourself in the future, both long- and short-term?
My son has started to become more involved in the business, so he has been working more closely with management, providing me much more free time to travel. Travel is my passion. My goal is to see the world. I try to take one week per month to go somewhere, whether it’s southern Indiana or Europe. Owning your own business brings with it your own freedom and the opportunity for financial independence. I love the personal freedom to go wherever I want just about any time without asking for permission. 

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