Jul 22, 2015, 19:20 PM
Michael J. Weiss
After work, most employees at Environics Analytics (EA) head home to relax in front of a TV or computer screen, join in a pickup hockey game or check out a new restaurant. But not EA’s Josh Levi. When he leaves the office, he heads for a classroom.
Over the years, he’s earned professional certificates in Canadian Securities and in Canadian Qualified Insurance. He’s currently studying social media and search engine optimization, working towards a Certificate in Digital Marketing, which he should earn this winter. And for an hour most evenings, he joins a half-dozen other members of his local synagogue to study the Talmud, a collection of discussions and commentary on Jewish law, customs and culture, written in Aramaic by ancient Jewish sages. He’s studied with the group for close to 10 years—and counting.
“I find the courses intellectually challenging,” says Josh. “I believe in continuous improvement, and they’re all to broaden my general knowledge.”
But such devotion isn’t solely for personal enrichment. As Director of Business Development in EA’s packaged goods, automotive, public sector, not-for-profit, government and health practice (PAPN), Josh uses his love of lifelong learning to solve daily challenges. In the year since joining EA, he has helped find ways the PAPN team can help clients better understand their audiences, grow their revenues and react to the changing needs of customers. “What I like is that my job allows me to work with many clients and countless marketing challenges,” he says. “I enjoy the variety and the opportunity to take the best practices from one industry and apply them to another, or come up with new and innovative ways to attack a difficult marketing problem.”
While much of his work involves sales, Josh hardly fits the old stereotype of a pushy huckster only concerned about meeting his monthly quota. “The people who purchase our products are more similar to me than a general salesperson who wants to sell you a product based on its attributes,” observes Josh. “We’re trying to sell analytical solutions, which is in line with my analytical approach to sales.”
Not one to shy away from cold-calling, Josh believes that every sales call should be personalized, every contact a chance to develop a relationship. “The way I break the ice is to look for commonalities, to create some common ground for a better conversation,” he says. “It’s not a tactic, just to make small talk to sell you. I naturally have a sincere interest in people, and that creates a good start for a conversation.”
Of course, not all calls end in sales, but rejection rarely seems to dampen Josh’s persistence. “The hardest part of my job is not giving up too soon,” he says. “Most of my prospects are extremely busy trying to run their business. So even if they don’t respond to my first, second or third contact, it may still be worth my time to try and reach out to them again at a convenient time.”
Once he’s connected with a client, Josh notes that the most important part of any project is “to begin with the end in mind. The idea is that if you know where you want to go, you’ll have a better chance of getting there,” he explains. He recalls one retailer who, early in their relationship, expressed a desire to learn more about different cultural communities. Although that goal wasn’t part of their initial project, Josh recommended using EA’s AccultuRates database to help expand their reach beyond their customer base. The client was delighted with the results.
“Josh is so effective because he has a great understanding of the big picture and investigates every angle when working on a project,” says Suzette Harnarine, a PAPN client advocate who formerly worked with Josh at The Data Group. “He’s constantly thinking of ways to improve things. And when he doesn’t understand something, he immerses himself to figure out everything he can to solve the problem.”
Such intellectual curiosity has characterized Josh throughout his career. The son of a Chartered Accountant father and a homemaker-turned-office administrator mother, he grew up in a middle-class family in Montreal but spent most of his adult life in Toronto, admitting, “I’m still a Canadiens fan.” He recalls childhood dreams of becoming a fireman, but notes they faded away. “I still have great respect for the men and women in the profession,” he says, “but running into a burning building no longer excites me.”
A popular student, Josh was president of his high school student council. He went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Toronto and an MBA, with a focus in marketing, from York University. But his passion for learning has never ended, and his resume includes a long list of additional courses he’s completed, including “Leveraging Your Leadership,” from the Schulich Executive Education Centre, and “7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” taught by Franklin Covey International.
Throughout his career, Josh combines those lessons in leadership with his expertise in marketing and business development. After his university education, he worked as an assistant brand manager for Procter & Gamble, learning how to keep mature brands like Bounce and Tide fresh. “One year they’d add a new cleanser, the next year a new perfume, and then they’d create a new package—all with the intent of building excitement around the brand,” he says.
From 1991 to 2008, he worked at ICOM Information and Communications, rising from account manager to business director, while serving with two other future EA colleagues—Susan Oliver and Ruth Marcuz. Much of his work involved launching ICOM in the U.S. “That was exciting because it involved a new market and developing cross-border learnings,” he recalls. “I was travelling about twice a month for several years when I learned the importance of meeting people face-to-face to build credibility.”
More recently, Josh developed broad data-driven marketing experience as Director of New Business Development & Analytics at The Data Group and as Director of Consumer & Shopper Practice at The Nielsen Company. As he describes his career trajectory, “I started in brand marketing and went to direct marketing and then email marketing, which led to segmentation and consumer analytics. And all that led me to EA.”
Since joining EA, Josh has divided his time between caring for current clients, finding new ones and working with the PAPN team on current projects. Asked to describe a high point of his time at EA, he is stumped. “The whole year has been a high point,” he explains. “The people here make all the difference. We’re a smart and fun group of people who want to help our clients and each other. Even our physical environment provides good insight into our business environment. The fact that we’re all together in one big room creates a certain openness which allows us to create opportunities and brainstorm.”
To achieve some semblance of work-life balance, Josh tries to arrive at EA’s office early so he can leave at a reasonable hour to be with his family and help with homework before heading out to attend his latest class. He and wife Bronya, a school social worker, have five children: two sons in their twenties and three teenage daughters, the oldest of whom is studying in Israel. Josh and Bronya met at a mutual friend’s wedding 24 years ago. “I had to pursue Bronya for over a year,” he recalls, smiling. “It comes back to my belief in persistence.”
The family home is located in Clanton Park, a neighbourhood in the North York area of Toronto classified Arts & Affluence by the PRIZM5 segmentation system—an “accurate overall” descriptor, according to Josh. But he has seen some cultural changes in his neighbourhood over the last decade. Where former residents were of Greek, Italian and British ancestry, the community has since received a wave of Asian immigrants, mostly from the Philippines. He and his neighbours share a love of culture, going to museums, frequenting the theatre and reading newspapers, magazines and books all at very high rates.
Indeed, reading books is one of Josh’s preferred pastimes. “The kind of books I enjoy are the ones that take me to another time and place,” he says, “or books that provide lifelong philosophies.” He cites Khalid Hosseini’s The Kite Runner and Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink as two examples. “I always prefer a book to a movie,” he adds. “I like to put things in my imagination rather than see someone else’s imaging.”
If this all sounds a bit cerebral, Josh wouldn’t entirely disagree. “I’m not a wild and crazy guy,” he shrugs. “I believe in living an examined life. You know: ‘Don’t let life happen to you.’”
With his voracious, not to mention omnivorous, appetite for learning, Josh clearly practices what he preaches. But no matter what he is reading or what class he is enrolled in, one question remains in the back of his mind: “The question is what I’ll study next,” he says mischievously.
—Michael J. Weiss