Jamaica Gleaner / Music is always better live. An important moment everyone, especially a music lover, should experience in their lifetime is seeing their favourite band or artist perform live. A connoisseur of music, Peter Levy has seen the late Prince perform Purple Rain , and watched Billy Joel artfully attack his piano when performing Scenes from an Italian Restaurant . Levy easily declares the ’80s the best time for music. “I think I was the lucky one, coming into my own and becoming a man in an era when Elton John, Michael Jackson and Earth, Wind and Fire were putting out original hits after hits,” he said.
Levy is not a record producer, though he probably has the technical know-how to be. He is the general manager of British Caribbean Insurance Company (BCIC) and has been part of Jamaica’s general insurance industry for more than 30 years. But this Insurance man is like no other. A fan of some of Vybz Kartel’s music, he plays Texas hold’em poker on the weekends with his wife, reads psychology books – for fun – and makes a killer coleslaw. Today, we take a look at what contributes to making this chartered insurance professional such a beloved leader in his field.
An astute writer, with a love for reading, he has the ability to distil complex things into very few words without losing the meaning. A self-described synthesiser of ideas, Levy is careful with his words, because he knows the power they hold. A reserved, curious and deeply analytical man who has learnt many life lessons on the cricket field, around the poker table and from watching his children evolve.
The middle child of three boys, born to Charles and Catherine Levy in Kingston, Jamaica, he told Outlook that the best life lessons he has ever learnt came from watching his parents live – how they conducted themselves day-to-day in an ethical way, not taking advantage of people and not being mean to anyone. His mother, Catherine, worked as the librarian at the high school he attended, Campion College. He jokingly admits that he doesn’t recommend this for any high schooler, because anytime he got in trouble (which he did) she would instantly know about it. Certainly, his mother being a librarian influenced his passion for reading and like many high-school boys, Levy poured over The Hardy Boys , Tom Swift and Louis L’amour . When asked what he enjoys reading today, he said, “I rarely read fiction anymore, I read a lot of business, management and psychology books.”
“Campion unequivocally contributed to who I am as a man today, but what I took away the most from there was the internal code of conduct they teach; a code of behaviour, which were principles expected of us as students and this code gave me a solid foundation as how to live as a man.”
Levy was the wicket keeper on the cricket team at Campion, an activity through which he learnt some important lessons. “Playing cricket taught me the fundamentals of being part of a team and the correlation of effort and reward. It taught me that people who were from different backgrounds brought their own input to the team and the importance of valuing everyone’s effort.” Today, he watches 20/20 cricket, but prefers the strategy which five-day test cricket matches bring. “There is a lot more going on below the surface,” he said.
His father, Charles was in the insurance business. At 19 years old, after law school, Peter decided that law was not for him, so he relinquished law to pursue a career in the insurance industry like his dad. He began his career in the claims department, which, he said is a good part of the business to begin as getting people’s lives back together was gratifying and gave him a sense of fulfilment. “Whatever my job has been since those early years, I have always kept the desire to solve problems for people paramount. Ultimately that is what we are here for.”
As a manager
When he was offered the position to begin working with BCIC, he told Outlook , “I remember having a conversation with a colleague when I took the position, and I said to them that my main job wasn’t insurance anymore, it was management. If you are a manager, your job is to get other people to behave in a certain way. I enjoy it, it’s like problem solving, figuring out what are the right ingredients to get the outcome that you want. In an organisation, information flows from the top down naturally, like gravity. When I say something, people repeat it or pay attention to it. So I definitely need to make sure I say the right things. As a manager, the challenge is to figure out how to get the information that my team members know from dealing with the customers on a daily basis and to get the reverse flow of that information, up the chain.”
Levy’s practical steps to getting feedback
1. Make it safe for people to talk so that ideas can be discussed.
2. Speak last – which is hard to do, because people who get to the top generally don’t have a lack of confidence, so you have to curb that desire to get to the point quickly. Though I don’t always succeed, I understand the need for it.
3. Build trust. What’s important is that you know that trust facilitates communication, and you build trust by proving yourself to be worthy of it. The only way to do that is frequent contact with the people you are trying to build trust with.
4. I meet with everyone who reports to me for half-hour every week, and I call them 3-0s (one-on-one). This has a long-term payoff and the purpose of these meetings is to facilitate communication one-on-one to give a relationship an opportunity to develop. If the only time they hear from you is when something is wrong, then this is a mistake.
5. Like our customers, each team member may have a different definition of what value is to them. Some of them want encouragement, some want technical advice, some want to vent so one of the things that these 3-0s give me is the ability to know what’s going on.
6. Retreats are good for changing the environment, but how much of that comes back to the office on the Monday morning after? I think it is more important what we do on a daily basis. The real work is what you do every day. If you’re trying to build trust, it’s what people see you doing every day that will build trust, not what you do once a year. You have to live it. It’s like a marriage, you can go on a vacation once a year and have a good time, but true successful marriages are based on what you do every day.
Future of Jamaica
When asked if he thinks the code of conduct once seen in his parents is now lost on today’s society, he said, “I’m not someone who thinks in terms of a decline of civilisation. I see a lot of swings in negatives and positives. What may be lost is the unquestioning acceptance of the rules of the past. Kids today are questioning more. I don’t think that’s a bad thing. I think we need to use our minds. Sometimes it leads to bad outcomes, but oftentimes to better outcomes. I get a lot of energy when I work with young people.”
Tech in Jamaica
His thoughts on technology in Jamaica: “I think we need to have the courage to grasp the future. The technology of today gives us reach, so you don’t need to be at IBM or at Xerox to create something, you can do it at home with a laptop and Internet access and reach the whole world. All you need is an idea. The amount of capital that is needed is almost zero, so the barriers to entry are pretty much non-existent. Look at the platform that we have. We have recognition that most countries don’t have because of Usain Bolt, Bob Marley, Rastafarianism and reggae music. We have that global positioning that we didn’t necessarily plan for. We need to be thinking how we can maximise ourselves, in the technological space as well.”
Levy and his wife of 25 years, Carol, are proud of their three children. Their daughter, Victoria, is currently studying musical theatre at Howard University. Their son, Damion, just finished law school, and has a podcast and writes movie reviews. Their youngest, Jacob, is quiet, loves football and if he had his way, would be a coach for a football team.
Levy combines strong technical skills with a goal of always delivering outstanding value for BCIC’s customers. BCIC’s success is attributed to its team of knowledgeable, customer-focused and engaged employees; the solid relationships enjoyed with loyal and highly respected brokers; and agents and customers who have provided them with the drive to create distinction and be top-of-class in the general insurance industry. In 2013, Levy was appointed vice-president of the Insurance Association of Jamaica (IAJ), and chairs the Association’s General Insurance Committee. Levy’s career has been dedicated to the development of his team members, the creation of more efficient systems and unique customer-focused products.
“I am a student and practitioner of the art and science of management. I seek to create an environment in which others can execute successfully.”
5 top books recommended:
Influence: Science and practise – Robert Cialdini
The Effective Executive – Peter F. Drucker
Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and in the Markets – Nassim Taleb
The Undercover Economist – Tim Harford
Against the Gods: The Remarkable Story of Risk – Peter L. Bernstein
Shot on location: The Courtleigh Hotel and Suites www.courtleigh.com
Photography: Ashely Saige