Michael Levy is the Chair of the Business Department at La Salle Institute in Troy, NY and President of KPS Distribution in Latham, NY.
By James W Phillips.
I first met Michael in Albany New York in the Spring of 2020, just before the world stopped spinning at the hands of the Corona Virus. I have been working closely with Michael ever since, through the JWP Foundation and the GBEI (Global Business Education Initiative) Michael is not only the Head of Business & Marketing, La Salle Institute, Troy, NY but also the CEO of KPS Distribution and displays the entrepreneurial spirit in abundance and is, a genuinely nice guy!
ML: I came from a very middleclass family and James came from a similar family makeup. Both our parents did the best they can to put food on the table, a roof over our heads, and a central purpose to our lives. It is this kind of background and drive that would link James and I together.
My path, that I travelled, was not an easy one but truly helped me become the success I am today. My father was a salesman, and after his third heart attack, my mother went to work as a teacher. A brilliant woman who was ahead of her time as a Mechanical Drawing teacher in the early 1960’s. I graduated from a large suburban high school, at the bottom third of my class. My college career started at a community college and finally ended up at Salem College, in Salem, West Virginia where I graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration. I was not a great performer in the beginning of my college education but did get it together to graduate on time. This drive to excel in the last two years of college built the foundation for my success later on.
Graduating during a recession is not a great way to start your professional life but I finally landed a position with a discount fashion retailer as a shoe salesman. Not exactly what I thought I should be doing but it was a start. Having the opportunity to work with the Buyer of women’s shoes allowed me to understand more about the fashion world beyond just selling to the consumer.
Along the way I met my wife and that truly became a defining moment in my life. I will always remember asking her father for her hand and he bluntly asked, “You going to sell shoes the rest of your life?” Well that was a wake up and it started me thinking about what I really wanted to do. Five years later I would land a position as an executive recruiter for Management Recruiters International. This would start a twenty-year career where I would work for both large executive search firms and own, my own operation.
Unfortunately, September 11, 2001 would drastically change my life when the towers came down. My business took a direct hit where I lost thirty percent of my business and it drove the desire to continue out of me. I would shut down the business and head in a completely opposite direction. My mother, as stated earlier, was a teacher and a true inspiration to me. So, I took up the mantle and became a teacher. I started as a Substitute Teacher, which I enjoyed, but when La Salle Institute offered me a position to head up the business program, I jumped at it. La Salle Institute was looking for a business teacher to start up the program and they offered me the department chair as well.
I always felt that the teaching of business should be a mix of academics and practical application. In my marketing classes I was able to implement this into a viable educational experience. The first American company we worked with was Rhoades Car in Nashville, TN and the first international company we worked with was Marlborough of England, in the Midlands of Great Britain. As of this writing my business department marketing students have worked with over sixty companies in thirteen countries. This program that I developed would lead to my association with James W. Phillips. We connected, through LinkedIn, in May of 2019 and this connection started a business relationship that has grown into a phenomenal collaborative association and friendship.
From this relationship, James would introduce me to other entrepreneurs in England, like Karen Slater of The Inspire Me Travel Company and my students have been working on projects for them ever since. James and I also started the Global Business Education Initiative (GBEI), which launched in March of 2020 right before the Covid-19 worldwide shutdown. We brought in nine companies from around the world and the USA for a symposium at La Salle Institute. All the companies have had working relationships with the marketing students at La Salle and it was a tremendous success. Our goal is to change how business is being taught at the secondary level.
James and I are now working on helping to launch his clothing lines and other business projects in the United States. I bring this up because this is where that entrepreneurial kinship has come together. We both have that drive and spirit to look down the road and see success as we endeavor to both launch businesses. He, with his apparel line and me, with my e-commerce retail and wholesale operation. By combining our talent, we both hope to build successful companies that can offer opportunities for young people to grow.