Toby Russell, co-founder and co-chief executive of Shift Technologies, leads the company he helped found in 2013 with a people-first mentality, building a strong team and focusing on meeting consumer needs in the used-car market.
The e-commerce platform’s tagline is “used never felt so new,” Russell told Auto Finance Excellence, noting that Shift gives consumers new-car peace of mind without having to eat the depreciation.
Russell and co-founder George Arison have together built a team that shares the same focus on the operational side. With Jeff Clementz in place as Shift’s new president, Russell feels confident in his recent decision to step down from his executive role effective in February to focus on his family. He will continue to serve on the company’s board of directors and act as a strategic advisor.
Meanwhile, Russell plans to relocate so that his two daughters can grow up together. “I think it’s going to be a transition, but it’s a good time and really good thing for my girls, and the right thing to do for my family,” he told AFE.
Russell and Clementz will work in tandem until February to ensure that Clementz is set up for success. “I think we’ve got a good orderly structure for me personally to do what’s right for my family and at the same time build Shift,” Russell said.
Auto Finance Excellence interviewed Russell to learn about Shift’s long-term mission, his greatest influences and what’s to come in the world of auto finance.
Auto Finance Excellence: What are your company goals in about 10 words or less?
Toby Russell: Make car purchase and ownership simple, trustworthy and accessible to everyone.
AFE: What is your favorite piece of leadership advice you ever received?
TR: Focus on the people. Recruit a great team, articulate a vision that they’re excited about and work on enabling those people to do great things.
AFE: Who has had the biggest influence on your career?
TR: Angus Thompson, my flatmate in graduate school and the closest thing I’ve ever had to an older brother. He let me in on a philosophy that he had picked up, and that was living a life in three parts: learn, earn and serve. Spend time educating yourself, earn enough to be able to gain the financial ability to support your family and support your responsibilities, and then don’t stop at that — go and give back. I’ve had a couple of cycles of learning, earning and serving and I think that’s been a real benefit for me to think in those terms. Angus passed away ahead of his time, and it was just a huge blow on him and our entire community, but he continues to influence my career today.
AFE: What do you think is the most underrated lending trend?
TR: I think digitization is creating a transformation in the e-commerce space. Embedded finance is an underrated but tremendous opportunity that we’re going to see transform the business models in e-commerce. With e-commerce transactions there’s a concept of a known user, an identity and a login behind it. This means the retailer can know who the customer is in a way that they never could in the past due to the new digital interaction model.
AFE: What’s something your employees would be surprised to learn about you?
TR: I think it would be surprising to them that my priority is making sure my girls can grow up together, above all else. I think they’ve seen me very dedicated in the Shift space and it’s a bit of a surprise.