How to raise eyebrows

From left: Iwan Luttikhuis, Gary Dean and Marcus Lenge, co-owners of OnLevel International.
From left: Iwan Luttikhuis, Gary Dean and Marcus Lenge, co-owners of OnLevel International.

While the three owners at Onlevel might seem like a rather odd bunch, Gary Dean explains the philosophy of the unorthodox start-up.

When I decided to take that leap to create my own company with two other former business leaders in Europe it did raise some eyebrows. Some certainly thought I was mad to leave the safe world of the mega corporation to go back 30 years to the days I started out on my own selling IG consumables from a van in Manchester, but then others said “what took you so long?”.

That was a valid question; and the real answer is simply that I couldn’t find the opportunity and the culture I was searching for – it wasn’t just about products, it was about doing something innovative and with a team of people who had a vision that challenged the status quo.

Finding that was difficult because I had come to believe that the paradigm of the sole existence of a business was to sell something to earn money was not valid in the 21st century – it was an incomplete truth in the emerging society we see.

There is nothing wrong with profit, but it has many facets that are not just financial – people can profit from training, from developing their skills and themselves, from giving something back to their community or from helping a supplier build their business by offering information, support and commitment.
The idea that busiensses have social responsibility was difficult to realise.

Through associates I had come across Iwan, and had worked on product and business development with Marcus at a previous company. Both guys also wanted to find ways to grow from good to great because of the incompleteness they saw in many organisations.

At the initial meeting, every concept I had was spoken back to me like a mirror reflection. And so we started to build our vision for OnLevel with a philosophy not to aim to disrespect others business models, but only to explore ways to build our own that made us feel good about what we were working on every day.

At the heart of what we see as the OnLevel vision is the organisational structure.

What we saw and created is an organisational structure that’s a jigsaw – each team member fits to each other with their own strengths (and yes, gaps) but ultimately, responsibility based on trust.

We want to build a picture not a pyramid, which means we reject the hierarchical structures of the kinds of companies we have all worked for because we want to work not ‘for’ but ‘within’ an organisation – it’s organic, it’s fluid, it accepts the need to grow and the need to develop each other’s skills. That doesn’t mean as leaders and business owners we side step those responsibilities of accountability and control, but we see those as part of the pieces of the jigsaw for which we are responsible, and are not more or less important than the other team members’ pieces.

Our organisation has no management chart; we don’t place people beneath a manager – we place ourselves and our team members ‘beside’ each other.

OnLevel is a serious business, not a hippy commune. We simply believe that you can build a business from which all stakeholders – owners, employees, customers, suppliers and the wider community– can benefit by driving success through honest hard work, imagination, respect and trust.

We are putting people at every level at the heart of OnLevel to create the best vision we can, and the great thing about a jigsaw is it can have many hundreds of different pieces but when put together correctly it can look great.

We believe a clear vision, a clear sense of purpose, and a clear commitment that’s all inclusive is the way forward to responsible business building, and this brings the best rewards.