HeForShe: Adrian Levy | Founder and CEO, Peppo

Adrian Levy Tutoring at desk - peppo

Adrian Levy is Founder and CEO of Peppo – a not-for-profit community interest company providing high quality GCSE and A Level tutoring to all children.

Tell us about yourself, your background and what you do now?

I am 51-years-old and have spent most of my career in the legal sector. I have been fortunate to have enjoyed an incredible career as a partner with a global “magic circle” law firm leading high value transactions with governments around the world. I have been doing this for over 28 years and have enjoyed every minute of it (well, almost every minute!).  Then the pandemic hit, I reached my landmark 50th birthday and it gave me cause to pause and think. I have been so lucky in my career and I would love to see others, no matter their background, gender, race or religion, have the same opportunity. I believe education is the best way of achieving social mobility and so I decided to reduce my hours as a lawyer and embark on my dream of setting up a social enterprise to help deliver a fairer education system.

I am now the Founder and CEO of Peppo – a not-for-profit community interest company providing high quality GCSE and A Level tutoring for all children. Any profit earned from tutoring children whose parents can afford it supports tutoring disadvantaged children – ensuring that every child is given the opportunity to reach their potential.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

In truth, I didn’t really plan anything. I started studying history at University and within two weeks realised I had made a mistake.  I really didn’t want to spend three years learning about the past and memorising the birth dates of all the Kings and Queens of England – I find it hard enough to remember my family’s birthdays! I wanted to live in the “here and now” and understand the world we live in today. So, I changed to studying law and, although I didn’t realise it at the time, I had stepped onto the legal escalator.  From university, I went to law school and from there to a City law firm, because that’s what you did.  It’s a well-trodden path and, although it’s really hard work, it’s exciting, challenging, very fulfilling and opened up opportunities for me which I would never have dreamed of.

So, a career in law was never planned and I certainly didn’t plan a second career in the world of education. I may have dreamt of democratising education, but I never thought I would be CEO of a tutoring social enterpise.  But, when you start to explore the provision of education in the UK today, you see that the academic gap between the haves and the have nots continues to widen, with many disadvantaged students being left behind with no prospect of reaching their potential.  This is simply unacceptable and means we are failing a generation.  I know from my own experience when I was failing at school that the tutoring I received from my grandfather made a huge difference.  It gave me confidence and taught me the joy of learning.  That’s why my tutoring company is named Peppo, after my grandfather Peppo to whom I owe so much . I want every child to have an inspirational Peppo in their lives.

Have you faced any challenges along the way?

Where do I start? When I first told my family that I wanted to quit being a lawyer to set up a social enterprise they thought I was either on drugs or should be put on drugs.  I accept it’s not a very easy concept to get your head around: why on earth would anyone hand back the golden goose?

Those conversations were quite challenging and at times made me doubt myself; doubts which only became louder when I started considering all the skills I needed to master, or at least have a passing acquaintance with, to run my own business. For someone who is not technologically minded, setting up a website and trying (unsuccessfully) to code part of a tutoring software system was like entering a foreign country where everyone speaks this mysterious language called Java.  But, as with all challenges, the sense of achievement when you succeed or, in my case, find someone who speaks Java, is immense. That is what keeps you going and allows you to be more confident when you have those challenging conversations.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

In May, Peppo had one tutor (my own son!) and one student (my daughter!), I suppose you could call it a true family business. But, by the end of the 2021, Peppo had 54 top quality hand-picked tutors and was tutoring children from food banks and community centres around London. Peppo has already provided over 500 hours of free tutoring to disadvantaged children and is looking after a number of paying students as well. To have grown that quickly and to be helping so many children is what makes all the effort worthwhile.

Every day we receive requests, sometimes from students asking for us to help their siblings, which proves that it’s not a lack of motivation that holds children back, but a lack of opportunity, and that’s what I want to change. Peppo Tutors is about creating a tutoring revolution where we can extend the highest quality tutoring support to both those who can afford it and those who would never dream of it.

Adrian Levy Peppo

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in your success?

Anything I have achieved has always been the result of teamwork. I know that sounds like the start to an Oscar acceptance speech, but in my case it’s true.  At Clifford Chance I have been surrounded by lawyers and professional staff who are incredibly talented and focused on providing the very best service to clients.  Whenever you come across a problem, you can be sure someone somewhere in the firm has seen that problem before and will make the time to share their knowledge and guide you in the right direction.

At Peppo, it is the tutors that do the really hard work – they are simply superb. Amongst our tutors we have a number of university students who never cease to surprise me with their knowledge, empathy and passion for helping others. Just the other day before a lesson, a students’ hamster died and so the tutor spent time talking to and consoling the student.  The parent told me that this really helped to build the relationship and trust between the student and the tutor such that, after the lesson, the student confidently said that she felt she could “ask the tutor anything without feeling stupid”. That is what tutoring is all about: making a student feel comfortable to ask questions, explore a subject and enjoy learning.

How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee?

I am a passionate believer in the importance of mentoring. I have mentored many lawyers over the years, helping them to develop and further their careers. I have also taken part in reverse mentoring, where a more junior member of staff mentors someone more senior.  Reverse mentoring is, in my view, highly effective in helping to open your eyes to other points of view.

A fundamental part of Peppo is mentoring.  Each of our tutors are carefully chosen so that they have not only the right academic qualifications but also the right background to mentor their students.  For example, a number of our students are in social care and so we will do our best to choose tutors for them who have care experience.  There is nothing more powerful for a child than to be tutored by a young person who has been through a similar lived experience. It helps to build their confidence and to see that they too can achieve.

What can businesses/government/allies do to help diversity and inclusion?

I believe that an equal, diverse and inclusive society is created by greater educational equality. Giving everyone the chance to have an excellent education will create opportunities for all and establish a fairer society. This may sound high minded pie in the sky, but how can we ever expect to live in an inclusive society when only 6% of young people with social care experience go to any University or where 55% of the students attending Russell Group Universities are from the 6% of young people who are privately educated?

I would ask businesses and the Government to invest in the future by investing in education, making sure that everyone has an opportunity to reach their potential.  At Peppo, we are working with visionary employers who are providing intern programmes for A-Level students from disadvantaged backgrounds. They are not just showing them the inside of their plush offices but providing them with Peppo tutors to help them get the best grades so that they can go to excellent universities and pursue the career of their dreams.  It is programmes like these where employers show how much they really care for their community and how much they are prepared to invest in a diverse workforce of the future.

Why do you think it’s important for men to support gender equality in the workplace?

Everyone should champion equality in the workplace but, as men have had certain privileges and advantages in the past, they have a particular responsibility to campaign for greater gender equality.  But I do not think that gender equality is the end game. Rather, there needs to be total equality in the workplace – or, as I see it, a celebration of individualism.  Everyone, no matter what gender, ethnicity, religion, neurological make-up or sexual orientation, should be able to bring their true self to work.  It is only by achieving that, the workplace becomes an inclusive, vibrant environment with all the benefits of different perspectives and experiences.

If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self what would it be?

My advice would be to dream big and never give up – everything is possible. When I was young, I was lucky enough to be accepted into an excellent Secondary School, but my first year was miserable. My parents began to wonder if they had made a mistake. I remember coming home after my first set of exams and having to admit to my parents that I was at the bottom of every class. My parents despaired and found it hard to hide their disappointment. I decided to knuckle down and, by the end of the second year, I was top of my class… albeit the bottom class in the year group! That year was an important lesson to me in what you need to do to succeed, how hard you need to work and how much you need to sacrifice. I have carried that lesson throughout my life and I honestly believe that if you want something badly enough you can achieve it if you work hard enough.

What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?

My aim is to continue to expand and grow Peppo to reach and help as many children as possible. We are currently based in London but there are plans afoot to support children nationwide, and we are looking at launching in Manchester next. By this time next year I hope that we will have provided 2,000 hours of free tutoring and will have a much larger presence in the paid tutoring market so that we can afford to provide 1-to-1 tutoring to even more disadvantaged children.

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