Mark Levy: ‘I Am Most Energized by the Important People In My Life’
The globally minded HR leader on how his wife’s positive outlook shapes him and why life lessons from high school English still resonate.
When you have the opportunity to ask some of the most interesting people in the world about their lives, sometimes the most fascinating answers come from the simplest questions. The Thrive Questionnaire is an ongoing series that gives an intimate look inside the lives of some of the world’s most successful people.
Thrive Global: What’s the first thing you do when you get out of bed?
Mark Levy: During the week I have a routine of waking up, kissing my wife, a quick snuggle with the dog, quickly putting on my work out clothes and heading off to the gym or yoga. This is my time, and the only time when I can get my workout in. Gives me a clean mind and a great source of energy for the day!
TG: What gives you energy?
ML: In addition to working out at the gym or the mind, body and spirit of a yoga class, I am most energized by the important people in my life. Firstly my wife, who is my best friend, the amazing mother to my three children and sweet chocolate lab. She has such a great spirit and positive look at the world. She brings this to life in so many ways, including teaching yoga, keeping the family healthy with tasty meals, encouraging us to take care of ourselves, and her wonderful outlook on life. My kids give me energy though diving into their studies, their well rounded interests, as well as their zest for life. With all that is going on the world, they are keeping up and continue to challenge what is the best way to address some of the issues which are challenging the world today. I am also privileged to work at an incredible company, more like a movement. Airbnb’s founders are authentic, passionate and caring people who are committed to creating a world where anyone can belong anywhere, and finding ways to use technology to create human connection and the world a more welcoming and caring place. The people we hire share this commitment to our mission and are some of the most caring, interesting and wonderful people I have ever met. I am so lucky as the energy at Airbnb is so massive- you can almost see it!
TG: What’s your secret life hack?
ML: Yoga. Taking an hour or more to allow yourself to enjoy the moving meditation, that helps with your mind, body and spirit is the way I have been able to manage the many competing aspects of my life.
TG: Name a book that changed your life.
ML: Walden by Henry David Thoreau was a real game changer for me. I read it in High School English and again at Colorado College in a course on literature of introspection. In fact, I wrote my college application essay on how the book had changed my life. Having permission to march to the beat of your own drum was empowering.
More recently, when I read Yvon Chouinard’s book Let My People Surf inspired me to find a company and profession that stayed true to its values and to find a way to make this the foundation of the employee experience.
TG: Tell us about your relationship with your phone. Does it sleep with you?
ML: Love/Hate. Amazed that it does so many things. Love it as a way for quick and helpful communications, but hate what its doing to suck so many people into too much insignificant data, and taking away from human connections. NO, it does not sleep with me- it is charged upstairs in the office.
TG: How do you deal with email?
ML: A necessary evil as well. Try to keep up with work email, try to avoid all of the garbage personal email so that the good stuff from friends, families and more trusted communicators is front and present. Do love the way the Gmail has created the three categories to try and help make it easier.
TG: You unexpectedly find 15 minutes in your day, what do you do with it?
ML: Call my wife or kids. Hate when the whole day goes by at work and have had no connection to the rest of my life. If this happened on the weekend, would probably head on a walk with the dog or pick up a book i started and never got to finish.
TG: When was the last time you felt burned out and why?
ML: End of last year Airbnb had just launched Trips, my role was changing but not sure what was next, we were planning to bring all 3000 employees together for our third One Airbnb meet up, and it had been non stop travel. Fortunately we have a two week closure that enables all of us to spend time with our family and friends, travel and take a real break- as no one is working except our Customer Experience team who get the two week off but over a longer period of time so we can be sure to service our hosts and guests over the holidays.
TG: When was the last time you felt you failed and how did you overcome it?
ML: There are times where it feels I am struggling to be a good husband, a good dad, a good manager…… When you are trying to do it all, its a matter of finding ways to juggle, to prioritize, to learn to say no or delegate, and to make some hard decisions. My biggest failure is probably also my biggest success- creating one of the first employee experience functions which enabled us to grow as fast as we did without compromising on our culture, the calibre of passionate new hires, or letting go of our mission and values was such a labor of love. However, i took on too much. I spread myself so thin that I was not spending enough time on anything other than what was in front of me or on fire. Lost track of being strategic, of creating the right structure for the future, and became overwhelmed. This was addressed by shifting reporting relationships, and narrowing the scope of my role.
TG: Share a quote that you love and that gives you strength or peace.
ML: One of my favorite quotes is “you can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.” Change happens. When I was younger I used to get so bothered when plans changed, or something outside of my control would get in the way. I learned to embrace change and to have a flexible mindset. Life is much easier, a lot more fun, and makes it much easier to “enjoy the ride.”
Mark is a seasoned globally minded HR Leader who has chosen to work for big hearted companies and focus on how he and his team can unleash the talents and interests of a company’s employees. He has worked with the likes of Levi Strauss & Company and Gap Inc. partnering with business leaders to support their HR needs including innovative ways to create a learning organization and ensure integration between work and life. Mark also spent two years living and working in Paris France for Thomson/Technicolor.
Mark, who is currently leading the Employee Experience of a recent acquisition, Luxury Retreats, was the pioneer of creating the Employee Experience team at Airbnb, which has created significant changes in the way organizations globally are looking at broadening the HR function. This group includes traditional HR functions in addition to broader areas focused on culture and workplace. Mark’s current areas of responsibility are Recruiting, Diversity & Belonging, Workplace (Food, Facilities, Safety & Security, and Environments), Learning and Development, as well as Ground Control, a team which is responsible for curating the culture.
Airbnb’s mission is to create a world where you can belong anywhere, and the employee experience mission is to ensure employees feel they belong here at Airbnb. “It is a privilege, a ton of fun and a lot of work to scale the organization while ensuring we don’t F#@k up the culture.”
Mark has his JD/MBA from the University of Colorado after four formative years at Colorado College. Mark chose to leave the practice of law after one year to focus his career on helping organizations do the right thing and to attract, develop, engage and retain creative and diverse talent to drive business results, curate the culture and create community connections.
In addition, Mark has been actively involved in helping organizations enable their employees to help those less fortunate through volunteering programs and community involvement, and is currently on the Board of First Graduate, a non profit which helps those who are first in their family to attend college.