Josh Levy, CEO of Ultimate Finance
The coveted role of board member in a FTSE 250 company is a daunting prospect. It’s even more daunting when you’ve landed it at 25 years old.
Despite all preconceptions, this was the start of Josh Levy’s journey toward his current position, Chief Executive Officer of Ultimate Finance. The specialist asset-based lender offers flexible solutions to a wide range of UK businesses, and forms part of the world-renowned Tavistock Group.
It is this association with the Tavistock Group, plus key contacts in high places, that has catalysed Mr Levy’s success. He credits this to mixing with people from all walks of life, learning from their experiences and applying their wisdom to his own processes.
One such key contact is billionaire Joe Lewis, entrepreneur and main investor in the Tavistock Group. Mr Levy’s connections with Mr Lewis go back to his childhood. Mr Lewis was a friend of Mr Levy’s father, and so it was only natural that their relationship would develop into a professional one.
“My father worked with Joe Lewis, so he was part of my family my entire life. This gave me great opportunities to learn, as I got to know him from a friend and an advisory perspective,” says Mr Levy. Indeed, this made him poised for learning from a young age – after pursuing a BA in Industrial Economics, he immediately went into investment banking.
“This gave me the chance to work with CEOs and CFOs from all kinds of industries,” he adds. “The exposure was phenomenal because I got to spend so much time with decision-makers. It was a fantastic learning experience.”
Perhaps the biggest lesson that Mr Levy learned was understanding people. He recounts his experiences rubbing shoulders with the top brass at Tottenham Hotspur, which is owned by the Tavistock Group through the ENIC Group.
“I was exposed to some very interesting characters from a young age, and I heard a lot of their stories. Our experiences are what shape us, and I learned not just from my family, but the people with whom they associated. I’m very fortunate to have built up that network.”
It is this eclectic blend of people that helped Mr Levy respond to a unique challenge – the prejudice against young people in high positions. In 2015, aged 25, Mr Levy became a non-executive director of Mitchells & Butlers, a FTSE 250 plc with more than 1,700 pubs and restaurants around Britain. This was on official appointment, of course, by none other than Mr Lewis himself. It wasn’t the traditional approach – particularly having left investment banking to go into hospitality – and the reactions from other board members were less than savoury.
“Quite frankly, going into a public company board with £2 billion was bonkers. But I knew it was going to be difficult. I expected hostility,” says Mr Levy. He notes the typical ‘pale, male and stale’ approach towards non-executive careers.
“Usually, you’ll spend 30 years doing whatever it is you do in your field and you become an expert. That’s how you add value – with your lifetime of experience. I came in without those years of expertise, and people were suspicious, but ultimately, that attitude doesn’t help anything.”
Mr Levy responded to the suspicion with a simple tactic: to be himself. “I spent a lot of time fostering relationships and building up trust. I didn’t see any point in being somebody I’m not.
“I knew from day one that it would take time, but I also knew that, so long as I remained approachable, I would be adding value.” Once people moved past the ‘shock’ of a 25-year-old board member, Mr Levy adds, they began to trust him. As a result, he moved into a customer-facing role, adding a new perspective for the company’s clients.
On the job training
This customer-facing role has afforded Mr Levy ample opportunities to travel, which again, provide key learning experiences. “The Tavistock Group has a portfolio of 200 companies all over the world. When I became investment director in 2016, I knew that I would have to align each of these companies.”
He applied his own learnings and experience to strategy, financing and strategic options for each company within the Tavistock Group. These new approaches are what would position Mr Levy for his next challenge: his CEO role at Ultimate Finance.
In addition to core values and investment strategies, Mr Levy also applied the principles of the entire Tavistock Group management team. He says: “Joe Lewis’ greatest strength is the culture he creates.
“The Tavistock Group is a family business, and he never loses sight of this. He feeds these family values into the group as a whole. We all take ownership of our responsibilities and look out for one another.”
A wellness culture
These family values have helped Mr Levy to foster a culture of flexibility and wellbeing within the Ultimate Finance workplace. As CEO, he recognises the importance of engaging employees, no matter what their age.
“Work/life balance is so important to me. I’ve worked in ‘Facetime’ cultures and I’ve worked around people. It’s crucial to have a mix of both, I think. That way you can be at the heart of conversations, and engage your employees and clients.”
One way to engage said employees is to trust them, says Mr Levy. With 50 remote workers, he acknowledges that he can’t watch over everybody at once. Instead, he promotes a people-first culture that encourages flexibility.
“A flexible working policy comes from having no policy!” he jokes. “We let people define their own parameters, whether it’s starting earlier, finishing later or taking long lunches.”
Flexibility is not the only wellness approach Mr Levy has taken. He’s also committed to treating physical and mental health equally, hiring mental health first aiders, and encouraging a dialogue among all employees. “It’s great to see that others are as passionate about mental health as me. There’s no stigma.”
This is especially pertinent for Millennials, notes Mr Levy. “Millennials are more demanding, which pushes businesses to be more adaptable to change and push boundaries. By working with a diverse spread of ages, ethnicities and backgrounds, we can add more value for employees and clients.” He also stresses the importance of investing in technology – not just to encourage flexible working, but to create better experiences for all stakeholders.
Looking back to go forward
Having reached a chief executive level at just 28, where else is left to go for Mr Levy?
“I don’t have a long-term vision per se. I want to carry on enjoying what I do and setting up the business to be a long-term success.” For Ultimate Finance, this is all about collaboration and securing the right output.
Mr Levy wants to continue fostering a flexible, people-focused approach, just as his family did. “I grew up around football – I never knew the 9-5! Instead, I want to use my family and professional experience to empower others, creating support networks to get the best value out of everybody.
“I have been trusted from a young age, and I want to encourage that in others. Age is just a number.”
This entrepreneur bio was written for Raconteur, looking at the life and times of Ultimate Finance CEO and lender Josh Levy.
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