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 News, 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 AFN.
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 News spoke with Russell to learn about Shift’s long-term mission and his greatest influences as he prepares to step down.
Auto Finance News: What is the top goal at Shift Technologies?
Toby Russell: Make car purchase and ownership simple, trustworthy and accessible to everyone.
AFN: What leadership advice has informed your own leadership style?
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.
AFN: 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.
AFN: What underrated lending trend are you watching?
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.
AFN: What will your transition away from Shift’s executive team look like?
TR: We have a couple of dozen really strong, great executives across the team, including Jeff Clementz, who has come on as our president. He’s been in the role since the beginning of October, and he hit the ground running. Part of my plan is to overlap with him and make sure that we conduct a thoughtful and orderly transition. I will still be in the operator seat through the beginning of February, making sure everything is going well and making sure Jeff is set up for success.