“Do not be afraid to be yourself. You don’t have to conform. Be who you are with confidence in a positive way that attracts others to join you. Just be you. There is nothing more satisfying and powerful.”
Clare Flynn Levy is Founder & CEO of Essentia Analytics, a financial software company that uses behavioural data analytics to help humans do a better job of investing. Prior to founding Essentia, Clare spent 10 years as a fund manager, both active equity (running over $1bn of pension funds for Deutsche Asset Management) and hedge (as Founder & CIO of Avocet Capital Management, a specialist tech fund manager). She ultimately “went native” into the software space as the President of Beauchamp Financial Technology, a market-leading provider of portfolio management systems to hedge funds, which was acquired by Linedata Services S.A.
Who is your role model as an entrepreneur?
I have several entrepreneur friends whom I consider role models. They have built interesting businesses, are great leaders and are genuine human beings. A role model isn’t just a business or political construct. Someone who has succeeded in business but has sacrificed personal integrity in the process is not someone I want to emulate.
In 2000, I was fortunate to join YPO (the Young Presidents Organisation), a the global network of CEOs who want to become better leaders through education and idea exchange. Over the years, I have developed relationships with certain YPOers that go even deeper than family. They are from all different industries (from hotel chains, to property companies, to medtech startups), ages and backgrounds, and they are people who have broadened my thinking by sharing their own experiences. I’ve watched them grow as individuals while growing their businesses – those are my role models. It is possible to be a great leader, to grow a great business and be proud of yourself as a person – that is what I strive to do.
What is your greatest achievement to date?
Building Essentia to where it is today has been a very satisfying achievement. We’re nowhere near “finished” but my goal was, and is, to bring together a team of very clever, very dedicated people who want to transform the way that humans make investment decisions; people who, like me, care about loving their work and being part of something that delivers meaningful results. Even when it’s at its most stressful, I love what I do – to me, that’s a great achievement.
What has been your biggest challenge as a woman entrepreneur?
Throughout my career, I have felt I needed to prove myself, to work extra hard and give my all to whatever I do. It’s a work ethic that was instilled in me by my parents – they encouraged met to reach for the stars, but they believed that women who succeeded in business had to do more to get there. I’d like to think that won’t be the case in the future, but I think it’s sad when women who are successful today say that they don’t think they have faced any challenges based on their gender. It might be that they weren’t aware, or that they chose to ignore them, but the challenges were definitely there. Women have been conditioned not to complain, and not to talk about what really goes on, lest we “ruin our careers.” But as someone who counts amongst her friends some extraordinarily successful female leaders, I know for certain that gender-based obstacles are real, and ugly, and often especially evident at the very highest echelons of business. In my view, there’s no shame in acknowledging them; the question is how you orient around them. Earlier in my career, I was often asked to serve the coffee, and even asked to sit on someone’s lap in boardroom full of men. I learned how to shake that off as a matter of survival.
What in your opinion is the key to your company’s success?
Definitely, it is all about our culture. I set out to create the company I wanted to work for, on the assumption that I’m not unusual in wanting to work with smart, creative, talented people who respect each other and want to make a difference. We have built a tribe of people who pull hard, together. Everyone appreciates each other’s contribution and knows that he or she is doing something that matters. It’s incredibly powerful. It started with me showing up as my authentic myself, treating everyone like an adult and doing the opposite of what I have seen in many a “command and control” work environment. When you come to work as your real self, you make it ok for others to do the same, and to really shine. One of our rules of engagement is that when conflict starts to brew, we nip it in the bud. Corporate culture is like a bonsai tree – you have to maintain it as it grows.
If you could do 1 thing differently, what would it be?
I am the mother of two small children, a wife and the sole founder of a tech start-up. The one thing I wish I could do differently is find more time for myself, to ensure I am in the best state, both mentally and physically that I can possibly be. It’s something I’m working on!
What would you say to others to encourage them to become entrepreneurs?
Entrepreneurship is not for everyone – there’s no reason to believe that it’s something we should all aspire to. If you love to learn, are comfortable with taking risks and enjoy the process of building something valuable, it’s the ride of your life. The hard part is figuring out what the right project is. If you have done a lot and learned a lot, the best answer is to find the intersection between your passion, your skills and your network, where you are uniquely placed to have a competitive advantage. Where even though the chips are down, by being you, you have an advantage that nobody can replicate. That’s where your probability of success is the highest. You must be able to deal with the dips when they happen and not lose faith. It’s not easy to find that thing. For a lot of people, it means waiting until later in their careers.
How would you describe your leadership style?
I aim to be tough on the issues and gentle on the people. I value clear communication and acknowledging obstacles early, but orienting toward solutions. I appreciate proactivity and reward people who step up and take ownership. I benefitted from that early on in my career and I am grateful to the people who gave me those opportunities. Most of all, though, I treat people with respect, the way I want to be treated, and see it as my role to empower them to achieve.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
I would tell myself that asking for or accepting help is not a sign of weakness. It does not mean you are worth less. If you are smart about what, how, when and who you ask, you learn much faster and create meaningful relationships in the process. You can benefit from others’ successes and failures, by asking them to share. I spent a lot of time not asking for help, for fear of devaluing myself. In retrospect I see that was flawed thinking.
What would you like to achieve in the next 5 years?
I have a very clear vision for Essentia and am very driven by that. I want to create a tech company that helps humans do a better job of investing, and I want to see that become an industry standard. I want to have fun doing it and to make sure that everyone involved gets a lot out of the journey.
3 Key words to describe yourself?