Executive Interviews

Experiences shared
by leading experts

Elad Levi - Head of Inland Services at Maersk

  • February 22, 2021

Your career began when you joined PwC in Israel. How do you think your time in the Big 4 has helped you in your longer-term career and what are the benefits of a Big 4 background when you are recruiting? Any drawbacks?

The Big 4 is a great school - you get exposure to many industries. I worked with Pharma and Hi-tech, for example – working in high intense projects which help to develop and set your mind when you start your career. It gave me quite some tools to take through my career: technical understanding; to understand Accounting; read and understand a reporting standard; to understand what it means and how it influences the overall financials. It is very, very key. There are few people in the business world, even in Finance, who can articulate something like that. As you progress your career, it’s really important to be able to ask the right questions.

When we moved to IFRS 16 – about a year ago – the tools that I had brought from the Big 4 helped me to really understand how it impacts from a performance perspective.

When you work for the Big 4, you need to write down and allocate hours you spend for each customer/project – this gets you into a mindset that every minute counts. Your day must be very productive. I still use this today, reviewing the work I did versus what I set out to do and ensuring that my calendar has served a purpose.

The other experience that’s really important is the customer interaction. In the Big 4, if you progress well, you can be working directly with customers quite quickly; even from a young age dealing with executives, authorities, commerce office, etc. The ability to work and understand the customer and provide them with comfort is a great experience for when you start to move into more commercial roles.

The drawbacks are that time is limited, and you tend to be focusing on technical skills and less focused on the business. It can become more routine and a little limiting in certain cases, especially if you want to have a more commercial role.

You have now enjoyed over eight years working for Maersk. How did you keep your career varied and challenging during that time?

I have had seven positions in almost eight years, so I’ve been very fortunate. It has been a great experience and there hasn’t been a dull moment. It’s a fast-changing business environment and so you constantly have to reinvent yourself. You always need to be on top of the business environment – the company has a very ambitious vision and, in addition, the people here are very driven and talented, and the combination of those factors makes this journey really great.

The world has been unpredictable in recent years, which only adds interest to the job. COVID-19 has changed the future of the way we work; supply chain, the products we buy and the way we buy. Without a digital channel in consumer goods, for example, then it’s difficult to survive.

At Maersk, I have had the opportunity to work in four different countries, in different roles, with different functions and teams, and I find it really exciting. It may seem a long time to have been with one company, but the opportunity to keep growing personally and professionally is extremely rewarding.

In what ways does Maersk provide a rewarding environment for young Finance professionals?

I’m often jealous of the new joiners to the company who join straight out of university, as we have several programmes which rotate them and teach them different skills in a variety of functions. In general, what is great as a young professional is that Maersk offers a career path, rather than a just a role. The ambition level is up to you and the geography, function and division, too. You can build a picture around yourself from many different perspectives of the business. In addition, you get a mentor who helps you and builds you up as you progress along the career path. You also receive a lot of training along your growth path.

Even for me, I started in the Port business and now I’m in the Logistics business, and it was an eye-opener, as I hadn’t before seen the overall picture and how everything connected together. It’s great for an inquisitive person! You work with colleagues from all backgrounds and all over the world.

As a senior Finance professional by background and a business leader, what trends do you notice in world of Finance? What do you personally do to manage the changes?

I’m going to answer from a two-headed perspective. In the last year, I’ve become a ‘general manager’ and so I’ve learnt a lot more about the value of a Finance function. Finance is a profession that has evolved radically in the last few years. When I started, Finance leaders/professionals were just expected to bring the numbers and not so much the insight, whereas now it’s a given that you will be asked, “what insights do you bring to the table?”. This is while you also maintain all the basic, good and effective essentials – such as tax, compliance, reporting – which on their own are hard work. More and more, the notion in business is that Finance needs to work efficiently and maintain low costs to compete in a highly competitive industry.

In addition, the movement to BI [Business Intelligence] has quite radically changed the Finance profession. The revenue, gross margins, etc. are therefore widely accessible to all and Finance really needs to bring the insights.

There is also a new speed – with the new tools available and notion of ‘agile’, the expectation is having on time real data available at a minimum on a weekly basis. At Maersk, we have had a high focus on BI in recent years.

What have you found are the most important factors in being an effective leader?

The first is to have a strong team around you. It’s taken me some time and maturity to realise this. It’s not about you being the best in all disciplines, but having the people around you who complete you. This has been a learning for me in recent years. You need to be comfortable to give them the stage – for example, giving them the opportunity to present their findings to the CFO [Chief Financial Officer] and receive the credit they deserve.

In addition, I try to listen carefully and without bias – so using data as much as possible. Data is the only thing that’s objective in most cases. This helps me to make an objective decision.

I also learnt to communicate effectively. So, for example, in the same way that receiving a short video message from a friend can be more impactive than a text, taking short videos of you delivering business updates/successes can be more impactive and time efficient than a long-winded video conference call or long email.

Last, but not least, it’s important to have an ambition and a plan to achieve it – in alignment with your key stakeholders. Ensure that everybody is involved, focused and aligned to work towards it.

Can you tell us of an impactful experience in your career with a leader/manager? What did it teach you?

I had many impactful moments in my career. My most impactful was actually as a Manager myself. The more I grew up the ranks, the more I appreciated diversity, and realized how key is it to engage teams and to strength your management team. When we merge between the Moroccan and the Spanish organization, it was a great experience and insight on how two different cultures could bring so many benefits to the organization, by combining their strengths and creating a stronger organization. Furthermore, this really boosted engagement, as colleagues were interested to know more about the cultural aspects of their new colleagues, whether Spanish or Moroccan. Lastly, on a personal note, this is inspiring! We all carry our culture, whether business or personal, it is fascinating to see ways of looking at things.bition and a plan to achieve it – in alignment with your key stakeholders. Ensure that everybody is involved, focused and aligned to work towards it.

What do you do to manage your time effectively? How do you ensure that you maintain a good work/life balance?

I think that good work/life balance is relative to each person. However, as a Manager, if you are passionate about your work, you realise that work doesn’t end while you’re on holiday or during the weekend. That said, when I’m with my family, I try to ensure I’m fully present, not checking emails, etc., but will set time aside for essential work activities. For example, I will set time aside early on a Sunday morning or late in an evening to deal with work emails.

Thank you to Elad for speaking with our Associate Director, Jenny Callum.

Views and opinions contained within our Executive Interviews are those of the interviewee and not views shared by EMEA Recruitment.