Boris Levin is the Chairman and CEO of Mott Corporation. He previously served as Group President at Nypro Healthcare, President at NP Medical, and General Manager at ACMI.
In this interview, he talks about using first principles of engineering to think about business problems, his company’s proactive COVID-19 strategies, their unique mechanisms to embed core values into everyday work life, and how he empowers others to make decisions.
Wei Zheng: Okay, Boris. Thank you so much for being willing to spend time with us and share with us your experience, wisdom, and your leadership journey. I really appreciate it.
Boris Levin: Thank you, Wei Zheng. I appreciate being invited. I’m honored and touched that you will have me on your podcast.
Zheng: Thank you. Could you start by giving us just a brief overview of your career history?
Boris Levin: Yes, sure. I’m an engineer by training. My dad was a metallurgist, and I am a materials scientist. I received a doctorate degree in material science from Lehigh University. After that, I worked in a startup company in the dot-com era. After that, I worked for a medical device company, one of the largest endoscopy companies in the United States that made endoscopes for general surgery, urology, and gynecology applications. And after that, I worked for one of the largest employee-owned companies in the world, Nypro, in Massachusetts. And my current experience is Mott in Connecticut, another employee-owned company, high precision filtration company, [where] I’ve been doing this work and I lov[ing] it for the last seven and a half years.
Wei Zheng: That’s wonderful. How did you grow into a leader? Did leadership come earlier in life, or somewhere else, somewhere later in life?
Boris Levin: Well, I like to think that I’m still growing as a leader. I think it’s a never-ending process, so I think it’s a continuous process for me. And I feel like at every stage, at every stop in my career or education, I learn something new, so my growth is continuing. And I think the key for me, probably in terms of growth, is to focus on reflection and introspection. I think early on I was probably less reflective and less introspective in my career. And I think now, and kind of through time, I’m becoming more reflective, more introspective, thinking about how my strengths are becoming my weaknesses and learning from also my peers, learning from other people. I think there are teachers everywhere. That’s kind of my way of growing.
Wei Zheng: Could you give us some examples? For example, what are one or two weaknesses or strengths you have realized, and how did you realize them?
Boris Levin: I would say starting with weaknesses, I think often–and we kind of know this, right?–our strengths can become our weaknesses. And so, coming from an engineering degree and having time to do very deep research in materials science, my strengths were my analytical skills, and to a certain extent they’re still my strength. And often time at that strength results into weakness in sometimes maybe minimizing the impact of relationships and other factors in the performance. And so, becoming more aware of this and sometimes deemphasizing strength and focusing on other factors has really been a tremendous experience for me, that’s been really good.
You know, in terms of strength, I think it’s also kind of my early career experiences and education that helped me to look at the bigger context, that it’s something that I think is really important, looking at the past, present, and future before making decisions. I think it’s important and also kind of a continuous learning mindset, I think it’s also important for any leader. So that’s something that I always enjoy early on, just continuing to learn, read, learn from others.
Wei Zheng: So you mentioned your technical background. You mentioned a little bit in terms of your technical background, helps you to develop your analytical skills, and it might hinder you. Do you have an example in that aspect, either it helps or it hinders?
Boris Levin: I think mostly it helps. It helps in terms of, it helps to think through the first principles of the technical background, so sometimes in the business decision, when we think about business decisions, there are certain assumptions that were made. Let’s say we make an assumption that our product is better than a competitor’s product. And thinking from the first principles and kind of from an engineering, technical background, helps to ask questions like, “What makes us think that we’re the best or [that] we have a better, superior product?” And that forces a deeper question in terms of, you know, what evidence do we have? What objective evidence do we have that, let’s say, speaks to our products being better than [the] competition or our products addressing specific customer concerns? So I think that technical background really helps to think in terms of asking good questions about assumptions and also thinking about determining a criteria, an objective criteria for measuring success or failure of something.
Wei Zheng: Yes, thank you. I want to explore a little bit. So, people have been talking about this technical and business, this technical sense and business sense. Do you see yourself possessing them from the very beginning? Do you cultivate one aspect more than others at different periods of time? Are they counter each other? Do they work together? How do you make them work together to help you?
Boris Levin: So I definitely didn’t possess them from the beginning. I was kind of and I continue to kind of learn, and I’m still probably not possessing them and can do a lot of things to improve on both the technical and the business front. So it’s an evolution.
And I think on the business side, really a lot of it comes from experience, being in the business world in a real environment and kind of experiencing issues, problems, and solving them, because in the business world, sometimes you can’t set up a clear technical experiment to prove or disprove something. There are just too many variables, so that experience is really important. Or focusing your mind on running small experiments before investing a lot of money into something. So that’s kind of being in continuous evolution, and we still probably make mistakes. That’s been an evolution for me.
And learning from peers. I think this is an incredibly powerful way of getting better at business is to just talk to other people in business, in your industry, even outside of your industry, and just ask them questions. How are they solving similar problems? What are they facing and learning from what they had already done. Which is kind of similar to what we do in the technical world when we do technical background assessment and we look in the previous literature and we’ll look at what other people have done, what kind of experiments they have done. So in a way, it can be similar.
Wei Zheng: Good point. Thank you. Could you share with us one or two major successes or failures or challenges you’ve experienced throughout your whole career that so far that one or two major successes have defined you or formed you as a leader?
Boris Levin: I think both successes and failures are related to people decisions. So usually the way I look at successes and I think some of the successes that I’m proud of the most is seeing people that worked for me being propelled in their career. And so there are three or four people that worked for me at various parts of my career that now became CEOs of other companies or senior executives at other companies, heads of marketing or sales. So that’s been probably the most rewarding and success[ful] for me, because I feel like by doing this I’m contributing, you know, not just to the success of my company, but also the success of other businesses and ultimately to something bigger than just myself. So I think that’s been very rewarding, and keeping in touch with those people and seeing how they grow makes me feel really good.
And also, as it relates to failures, I think we probably, all of us, on the hiring front, made some mistakes where we feel that someone is a good fit for the company and they may not be. And especially early on in my career, you know, I probably didn’t focus as much on hiring people for culture fit to the business, I really focused more on a kind of resume and technical skill, but less about interpersonal skills. And, you know, on a few occasions that didn’t work and I feel it’s a personal failure because it’s obviously probably a broken promise for someone who I hired and it’s caused a lot of turmoil or extra resources within the business as well.
Wei Zheng: So you mentioned propelling other people to higher leadership responsibilities, or positions. How do you do that? I’m thinking you must be a good coach or mentor. What are some specific things or strategies or practices you do to help build up people’s own leadership?
Boris Levin: I’m not sure I have a specific secret sauce for this, but generally what I try to do–and I view my role as a CEO, the leader of the business–is focused on three things.
One is around creating a safe and open environment in a business and allowing people that work for me to be able to express their ideas, thoughts in an open environment where they don’t fear that there will be repercussion for that or there will be some penalties for maybe disagreeing with me or providing an alternative point of view. So creating kind of a safe environment. So that’s important, especially for people that are smart and driven. They have a different point of view, and that’s important.
Second is being able to create, together with my direct reports in a broader group of people in a company, shared goals. Because I believe that the creation of the goals, obviously I have a responsibility in that, but I can’t be just sitting in a corner office, creating goals. I think it has to be a fundamentally shared process. There has to be debates about it, and obviously, when it is a shared process, then there’s a certain accountability that comes with it, because people feel like they participated in the goal creation, that it was not given to them, it was not forced on them. So that’s kind of the second area that I really focus on people that I work with.
And the third is to hold them accountable to those attaining of those goals and try to be objective about this and give people coaching, whether it’s a performance coaching, how to improve their specific performance of a certain project or sort of a development coaching, help them to get better in a relationship or observing certain patterns of the behavior that could make them more effective.
So really three things: creating a safe environment, creating shared goals together with people, and, third, holding myself and others accountable to attaining those goals.
Wei Zheng: I see, so let me follow up on the creating shared goals point. Is this something unique or special because you’re in an organization that’s employee-owned? Because a lot of organizations probably have processes where you have organizational goals that are cascading down to different levels downstream. So what’s unique? Maybe let me ask the broader question: What’s different in an employee-owned organization than not employee-owned?
Boris Levin: The process doesn’t have to be different, by the way. So it’s the employee-owned versus not employee-owned–I do believe that if I would be working in a non-employee owned company, I would do the same thing. I would create shared goals working together with people thinking about what our goal should be. But employee-owned certainly creates more responsibility for people to act like owners instead of pointing to someone to say why don’t you give me my goal because I can’t come up with any. Employee-owned companies are an incentive for the company to do well and therefore creating an incentive, a wealth incentive, because in an employee-owned company, if the company does well, all employees do well. It creates an extra incentive for people to focus on growth, because in an ESOP company, an employee-owned company, it’s all about growth. If the company doesn’t grow, then it’s very difficult to be an employee-owned company.
Wei Zheng: Could you share with me just a glimpse of how you do that in Mott?
Boris Levin: It’s a messy process, because it requires time. You can’t just create this in three days, or two months. But it requires time. So usually the way I like to create goals and how we’ve done it at Mott, early on, we created groups of people, usually between 5 to 10 people, and the team, we may have between 5 to 6 teams like that, sort of, you know, anywhere from 30 to 50 people, so it’s a large group of people involved. And each one of those teams is focused on different areas of the business, so one team could be focused on our product offerings. Another team would be focused on our customer relationship. The other team could be focused on our cost structure. The other team focused on, kind of, our people. And so creating these teams where they are charged with determining what is our biggest challenge for growth within those particular areas and what is the biggest challenge for success, and then thinking about how do we overcome this challenge together? And it’s an iterative process where each team usually comes in and presents, first, how they think about challenges and why they think their challenge is more important than the other challenge and what kind of data and information they have. And then they come back and they think about how to overcome those challenges.
So it’s an iterative process that could take up to six months, sometimes maybe more, because it requires for people to get data, for people to talk to customers, for people to talk to other employees. But that process itself creates buy-in, because then it’s not just the CEO, a select group of people that think about those issues. You have a large group of people that think about it. They get information, so information is power–so they collect information about our cost structure, about our customer behavior. That already creates knowledge buy-in and that creates really key success ingredients for moving forward.
Wei Zheng: Interesting. So who are on those teams? How do you select members for those teams?
Boris Levin: So that’s a good question, so there’s no rules for that. So we’re really trying to select people who know quite a bit about the issue from different areas of the organization, typically. So it could, let’s say as an example, on a customer team, a team focused on our customers, it could have a salesperson that interacts with customers quite a bit. It could have someone in our customer service team who interacts with people internally and our customers. It could, and likely will, include people in the operation side of the business that have to deliver to our customers. And it probably includes someone from the development side, R and D side of the business that also delivers new products to customers.
So it’s a cross-functional team. It’s not hierarchical, so it may include vice president, may include a director, it may include an employee from the manufacturing floor that knows the most about an issue. So that’s another really important point. It cannot be kind of a team driven by hierarchy. It’s about the team that can learn and knows the most about the issue.
Wei Zheng: That’s interesting. And how often do you do these large team goal setting exercises you mentioned? Sometimes they last about six months. So how frequently do you do this?
Boris Levin: So in my seven years with Mott, we’ve done probably two or three of those large exercises, usually we set a 3 to 5 year strategy and so to develop, we have kind of groups like that over the course. So we’ve done it two or three times, but then, within those several years, like 3 to 5 years that we have created those teams, we then rely on some of those teams to go deeper in certain areas. If we need to adjust the strategy, if something is not working. We meet on a quarterly basis and a monthly basis. And we also have teams during our quarterly and monthly meetings, where we ask some of those teams to provide us feedback on what’s working and what’s not.
And typically, the way our cadence works, we have our weekly meeting in the company that we meet as an extended leadership team, and it’s a very tactically driven meeting. Monthly meetings are usually focused on a little bit more strategically and they’re focused on what we need to do to achieve our goals for this year. And the meetings that we have once a quarter are really focused on assessing our strategy on a quarterly basis: that we’re heading in the right direction, what are the metrics saying to us, is it time to re-evaluate our strategy based on something happening in the market.
Wei Zheng: Thank you very much for sharing this process. It’s very informative. So since we’re on this topic, so what happened, what did you do when COVID-19 hit? I’m assuming goals will be shifted because of this pandemic. So how did that process work out for you? What worked? What didn’t quite work and what are some lessons you have learned?
Boris Levin: Yes, so that has certainly been an interesting and rewarding experience. I think for me and many of us, in a sense, rewarding in a sense, that I think it’s brought us closer as a team. So early on, even before the governor’s stay at home orders, we got together and we recognized that we needed to probably be work-at-home. So at one of our monthly meetings, I think it was in February, we actually got together and said, what is our plan if things are going to get worse? And so we also have those breakout teams that I just described. So we have six or seven teams that are focused on different aspects of the business. What are we going to do for our customers? What are we going to do for our employees? What are we going to do on the manufacturing floor? And so they all came back with kind of rapid-response plans. Meaning, what happens if there is a stay-at-home order?
So by the time the stay-at-home order came, we were ready. On minute one, we knew who was going to be staying home, we knew who needed to come to work, we knew how to communicate. So that’s one. Second, we created a small, we call it rapid-response team. We call it the Small Safety COVID-19 Team and that team, about five of us, met every day, and we talked about what we need to do the next day. So the focus for that team was very, very short. It was literally next day to the next seven days, 24 hours, next kind of 120 hours, and we really focused on what we need to do, what new protective equipment do we need to bring in, what are we hearing from people, sort of rapid response.
And then we have our other mechanism that we continue to have that really helped us in the company. We call it daily huddles for the entire business, and it’s really the heartbeat of the company that continued every day. Everyone in the company and their small working groups get together, and they would call it huddles. So that’s our, you can dial into it, you can participate in person, and we continued to talk about what are our priorities for today, what are our priorities for the quarter, what are the issues that we’re facing, and what are the values, good stories that we can share about each other? And so that mechanism continues, and it provides a sort of a level of certainty for people in an uncertain world.
So we had that continue because it’s been with us for seven years. So when COVID hit, we still continued our huddles because people can dial into it remotely. That gave people a sense of certainty in a world around them that was highly uncertain. And that’s in addition to what I just described, the COVID-19 team that we created, a rapid response team, the other session that I described, it created very concrete plans of what to do on day one when the stay at home order hit us.
Wei Zheng: Impressive scenario planning beforehand. So about the daily huddles, are you still doing them? What’s your plan going forward into the fall where there might be, hopefully not, but there might be another wave?
Boris Levin: Oh yeah, we continue daily huddles, are happening. So they’ve been happening before COVID and they continue to happen today. This is just what we do is a company. We get together every day and there are four questions that we ask in our daily huddle. It’s a 10-minute standing room only meeting so obviously, when people are dialing in, they don’t have to stand. So every workgroup in the company gets together every day for 10 minutes, sometimes it is around 15 minutes, and there are four questions that we ask.
First is: What is your most important priority for today to achieve? Second question: How are we doing against our quarterly goals? And we have our metrics on a shared screen and we talk about our green, yellow, and red. The third question that we ask, and it’s a really important question, especially at the time off COVID, is: Where do you need help? It’s just part of creating an open and safe environment for people to be able to speak up and to say to their peers, to their coworkers, I need help. And some of the help could be business related and sometimes that help could be not business related and to share what do they need to be successful? And the last question is also very important is we’re sharing our core values stories. Those are the stories we have four core values with–like today we had our huddle and we probably have five or seven stories that people share that they saw someone did this and this. Like, we saw someone picking up parking lot cones in our parking lot and it was one of our employees, because they got knocked over by the wind, and that was a core value of acting like an owner. So those stories are very powerful, and they keep people connected in this time of crisis.
Wei Zheng: Those are a wonderful four questions. Especially the last one, that’s unexpected. The first three I understand it’s more tactical. What do you do? How to support people? The last one is impressive because it’s about core values, because then every day people are thinking about the core values. Well, what are your core values? I know I should have done research on this, but what are the key things you want people to remember?
Boris Levin: Yeah, so we have four core values and first is acting like an owner. And it’s really all about taking 100% responsibility for results, because as an owner you have no one to point fingers to, so that’s our first core value. Second is believing in the possibilities, and this is all about saying I can do something instead of I cannot. How do we think outside the box, how do we ask other people for help? The third is about caring deeply, and that’s kind of involving two things. One is caring deeply meaning doing small things with very high standards, because people that care do even small tasks when no one is looking with a very high standard. And it is also caring for each other and we kind of, I think we stole this saying from someone, exactly I’m not sure from whom, but it’s kind of if you want to get a hug, you have to give a hug. That’s kind of in quotations. So you have to be kind. It’s better to be kind than to be clever, and caring deeply about that. And lastly, it’s setting high standards. So we have high expectations for our employees. We have high expectations of each other, and that means that in our business there is no finish line. This is not a sport where you finish the game and you win a championship. Every year, we have bigger goals, bigger aspirations, and we all want to do better. Setting high standards and setting high expectations, recognizing that there is no finish line in what we do.
Wei Zheng: Wow, that’s impactful. What would be an example of what people share because they share every day, right, they share everyday how do I set high standards today. What would be some examples?
Boris Levin: So one example that actually I brought a little story about this to employees, is one of our quality engineers has been regularly recognized in the huddles for core values of acting like an owner and caring deeply. And specifically it was recognized that, you know, if he talks to the customer and the customer has an issue, the first thing he says is, he’s telling customers that he’s sorry that the customer is having a problem regardless of whose fault it is, right? So, it’s about saying, it’s about accepting 100% responsibility or caring as well.
The second thing that the story of this core value is about owning the issue. So this particular quality engineer would never say they messed up or we will look into it, he says “I will do this.” That’s all about I am the owner, I’ll take a hundred percent responsibility, I represent this company, right, so that’s about the core value of acting like an owner. And lastly, he sets very high standards by committing to customers on a communication cadence, saying I will call you in the next 24 hours. He goes through a set of corrective actions and he calls them in 24 hours with a set of corrective actions. So it’s creating a plan, following through on this plan, and that’s setting high standards and having very, very high expectations of himself.
Wei Zheng: Wow. So owning the issue and claiming some problems as one’s own. That’s not easy to do. So how did you create the culture where people feel safe and comfortable to own an issue?
Boris Levin: Again, it’s an ongoing process. It’s not the sort of things that could be established and then forgotten. It’s just an ongoing part of our behavior, and the way we do this is we seek feedback. We try to seek alternative perspectives and sort of create this learning mindset so people feel like if they have an alternative perspective, it’s actually welcome. So we have a process we call it “before activity review,” or I’m sure you’ve heard this “pre-mortem” right, where we sit around and we’re thinking about what could go wrong. Like what ideas? What could go wrong in this particular project? Then, after many projects we do a process called “post-activity review” and it’s kind of a lessons-learned process where we very openly talk about what we’ve done really well and what we can do better.
So we encourage feedback that helps us to improve. So that’s a big part of our process. You know, another process we have is, and again it’s used by others, is kind of the we call it Team Red, where we specifically appoint a group of people to find faults in our thinking or being critical about certain things in our projects that we may not see by being close to it. And all of those things are essentially part of the culture that welcomes feedback, welcomes different thinking, because we view this as a part of our improvement. You know, it’s not, people cannot be penalized for providing different viewpoints, and that’s a big part of my role.
Wei Zheng: So let’s imagine you have a new manager. What are the procedures you do to help her prepare to run these huddles where she can help install or communicate the values to people that she oversees?
Boris Levin: So we have a very rigorous onboarding process. In fact, you know, I just spoke with someone who got hired a week ago, and this person told me that, and he worked for General Electric and for many other companies, and he said that this is the best onboarding process that he’s seen in his 35-year career. So we feel it’s important, so that’s the right question.
So we spend upfront a lot of time with an individual that we hire to explain our values and what we mean by them. So they kind of, they talk to each manager in the company or they talk to many employees, and we all kind of explain to them what our core values are, what we do, why what we do is important. I meet with every new employee, and I spend an hour, sometimes two hours, and it’s usually in a very small group, sometimes it’s individual meetings–and it’s a big investment because we are not that small of a company, we have now closer to 300 employees–to talk to them about our value, our culture, our history.
So that’s a big part of the onboarding process, and it’s really, really important. And it’s very organized, so our human resource team is very rigorous in that process and we don’t really allow a new person to start doing their work fully until they kind of go through that process.
Wei Zheng: I see. I have another question related to your leadership style. So I was fortunate to get to know someone who works for you. So I asked him, and he commented that your leadership style is very empowering, allowing employees to make decisions for themselves. Could you talk about that a little bit in terms of how you do that? Or share an example or two about how you do that?
Boris Levin: Based on the magnitude of the decisions that we need to make, to ask people to make decisions for which they’re responsible for in their own area of responsibility. So I try to defer to them because I feel like people that are closest to the process, closest to the customer, are probably best equipped to provide the best recommendation. And so that’s kind of oftentimes step one for me is to ask for their viewpoints, so that may be empowering. But it’s kind of part of, I think, what we are as a business, and we’ve been like that for a long time.
Also, as a part of this we’re trying to be very clear who is responsible for what in the business. And I think that sense of responsibility creates an empowerment for people, that clarity. We’re not always perfect on that, but we always try to in the beginning of the project or if we talk about some business goals, we always say, “Who is responsible for this?” And we usually want to have one name. And I think clarity is empowering for people, because oftentimes what happens if the clarity is not there that is disempowering, like “Am I on this or is that someone else who owns this particular process or outcome or goal?”
So I probably think that we focus quite a bit, and the third piece is probably learning from mistakes. So, you know, we all make mistakes, and I think it’s important to recognize them and learn from them and not penalize people for mistakes. So I think that could be empowering as well. I know it’s empowering for me when I make mistakes and I’m able to correct them and someone gently guides me through what I could have done better. It’s an empowering process.
Wei Zheng: That person I talked with about your leadership style also mentioned that you emphasize focusing on three things. The top three things. Could you talk more about that? How do you do that specifically?
Boris Levin: You know, we all have kind of a short attention span, I think, especially in these rapidly changing times, so I don’t think the human brain can absorb more than three things, and I don’t know who first came up with the rule of three, I’m sure there’s some explanation from psychology books around this, why people respond to the rule of three. But there’s something about it, so I think it’s important to focus on. We will collect [inaudible] to say what is the most important thing?
So it all starts with the most important thing, then what’s the second most important thing, and what’s the third most important thing? Because I think that question forces us to think deeper about a certain issue. Because it’s not enough to say what are the three most important things. It’s really important to say what is the most important thing, and what’s the next one, and what’s the next one? Because if it’s just three, then people think that all three of them are equally important and it’s rarely the case. And so it forces us, by focusing on three and focusing on prioritizing three, in my view, it focuses deeper thinking and focuses on the identification of the most important factor. If you do that correctly, I usually think numbers four, five, six, and seven will take care of themselves somehow.
Wei Zheng: Yes, do you do this exercise every day? The top three things?
Boris Levin: No, not every day. But we certainly think about it, I would say, as we set out quarterly priorities, we try to think about that on a quarterly basis. And I think generally when we think about our projects or reports on a weekly basis, we always ask the question, what is the biggest challenge? So it’s a typical question for us, where or what is the biggest opportunity? So I think it’s just part of our thinking as a company all the time, and we probably can do better like that.
Wei Zheng: So you work for Nypro for some time and you left Nypro for Mott, which is a much smaller organization. So from a career choice and career transition perspective, what were your reasonings behind that decision and what were you aiming to accomplish? Did you have difficulty making that decision or no, and what were your thoughts when you were making that decision?
Boris Levin: It was not an easy decision to leave Nypro, and Nypro is an incredible organization, and the company has grown to be one of the largest employee-owned companies. We were over a billion dollars in revenue. Successful business, was a great brand name. And then we were acquired by another great company, Jabil, which is a large employee-owned company–again, great business. And so, at the time, after we were acquired, which was a good acquisition for both Nypro and for Jabil, you know, I felt that I wanted to replicate the success that Nypro had, and I wanted to help companies like Mott that had already been successful. Obviously, the company’s been around 60 years, has some great, amazing people, and I wanted to help to grow it and help to sustain the ESOP that I’ve seen been so uplifting and positive for so many employees at Nypro. I just wanted to recreate that.
Wei Zheng: Interesting. So do you see those changes? So what was Mott like before you were there? Did you have the vision before you joined them?
Boris Levin: Mott’s been a very good company for a long time. It’s been around for 60 years, and it’s been a good company before I came onboard because any company that stays in business for 60 years must have done a lot of good things–so it’s not like I came to a company that was broken. I think it’s been a successful business for a long period of time. So I saw a business that’s been successful. So that was my number one observation. I saw a business that had amazing people. I just wanted to add a little fuel to that, and to help people to grow even more and maybe scale 10x or maybe 20x. So I saw this as a great opportunity to just multiply the impact that I’ve seen already existed in the company.
Wei Zheng: So let me transition again to ask you some personal questions. So there was an anecdote that you allegedly shaved your head because you lost a bet to your son. Is that true? And would you like to share the story with us a little bit?
Boris Levin: That’s true. There was not a lot of hair anyway to begin with, so I think it was overdue. But yes, you know, we were all a little cooped up during this time of COVID-19, my kids especially. And so my 14-year-old is a good runner and for some unknown reason, I decided to challenge him in a 100-yard sprint in a stadium. So I thought I could still keep up with him, and so we went to the local high school track. I thought I warmed up pretty well. And then about five yards into our race, I just screamed in agony because I popped my hamstring. So I lost the race and that was the bet that whoever loses the race had to shave their head. So I promptly had to do that, and so that’s kind of the story behind this. But we had fun, and that’s a good memory, but I definitely will remember that.
Wei Zheng: Thanks for sharing that. So also, you do some skydiving. Is that right?
Boris Levin: That was a long, long time ago. Yeah, I did a tandem skydiving with friends, and so that was, I’ve done it only once. That was an incredible experience, definitely very scary, but I enjoyed it while it lasted. So I did it only one time.
Wei Zheng: My next question is, during all the pandemic and disruptions and things, very stressful times, what do you specifically do to take care of yourself?
Boris Levin: So I have three kids and so obviously just helping my wife to take care of them and being with them is just, it’s actually a stress relief, although it’s stressful, but it’s a different type of stress that by doing a different activity, that takes your mind off the kind of things that may be happening at work. So I think that’s been really good. And trying to do exercises so go for a run every once in a while or go for a walk. I try to do this regularly every day, just to change the routine and just a process of changing and doing something different helps to relieve the stress.
Wei Zheng: My next question is to keep on top of your industry, I know you have crossed different industries and to keep on top of the world and having updated knowledge and things, what do you read and who do you talk to in order to keep on top of everything?
Boris Levin: So I read a lot. I enjoy reading, and I enjoy reading, and I enjoy reading nonbusiness things, the novels and biographies and the thrillers and mystery novels. That’s actually, by the way, part of the stress relief. I talk to my peers all the time. I think it’s really important. So I talk to my peers, CEO of the companies, whether they’re in Connecticut or other parts of the US or globally, and try to check in periodically and see what they’re doing and how they’re doing. And it could be a 15-minute check-in, so I think that’s been really helpful. I try to read interesting business books as well that I find interesting and that have a unique, maybe perspective on certain things. So that’s been interesting, but there’s so many of them that sometimes it’s hard to pick, but I try to on the business front at least read one new book, maybe every couple of weeks on the business front in addition to other books that I read. So it’s just that I try to read a lot, I enjoy that.
Wei Zheng: Do you have one or two recommendations?
Boris Levin: So on the business front, I’m reading a really good book. It’s called Leading Without Authority, by Keith Ferrazzi, and it’s a really good book, you know, how to break down silos and make teams more creative and empowering. So it’s kind of the same theme of how do you create more empowerment. So I found this very interesting. And on a non-business front, which is kind of related to business, I’m reading the older Ron Chernow book called The Titan. It’s about John D. Rockefeller. And so that’s another interesting book that I’m reading.
Wei Zheng: Thank you for sharing that. I’m sure some of our audience will very quickly pick up those books. Thanks. My last question: So during all of COVID and disruptions and changes, actually, some people talk about COVID as a turning point for a lot of industries. What are one or two big trends you see in your world?
Boris Levin: I believe that COVID is kind of accelerating trends that were probably already here. So we’re seeing trends, rapid growth and technology, computing technology, and demand for more computing power. So I think that’s an important trend that probably started before COVID-19, but certainly with remote work, and it’s just accelerating significantly. So we’re seeing that trend playing in front of us.
I think that climate change is probably going to be one of the defining issues of our time. So we’re definitely seeing kind of a shift that has taken place or at least is starting to take place, a little bit more aggressive shift towards alternative energy and hydrogen generation or some other alternative fuels. So that seems to be accelerating over the last 6 to 12 months, and especially in Europe we’re seeing a lot more demand from Europe for materials that could help in that generation and in the US as well.
We’re seeing trends towards kind of space exploration, and again, it’s not a secret, SpaceX and Blue Origin, and there’s that redefining how to explore space now, and I think that’s rising a lot of interesting new technologies
And we’re also seeing trends towards localization, near-sourcing supply chains and I think the improvements in 3D printing and advances in 3D printing technology allows the company to probably be a little bit more localized in some portion of their supply chain. So that’s been another trend that we’ve been seeing.
Wei Zheng: Thank you for sharing your observations. That’s all of my questions. Thank you so very much for sharing with us your insights and wisdom about your management and leadership practices. Thanks again.
Boris Levin: Thank you. I really appreciate you having me here and I hope to learn from your listeners and from you as well, because like I said earlier, teachers are everywhere.
Wei Zheng: Yes, thank you. That’s a good insight.