Alexei Levene, co-founder of Desolenator

In our regular series, industry bigwigs take us back to their first jobs


Hi Alexei! Who are you and what do you do?

I’m Alexei and I’m a co-founder of Desolenator. We’ve developed a proprietary approach to desalination that only uses solar energy and no harmful chemicals. We turn seawater into high quality drinking water using the photons of the sun. And that’s been a game changer for many parts of the world.

What was your first McJob?

A summer job as a waiter in Lebanese restaurant in London when I was 13.

What did you have to do?

Everything you would normally do as a waiter: so bringing out food, setting tables, running out of cutlery and eating quite a lot.

How did you get the job?

My father worked with the owner. So it was a shoe-in from the old man. I think he wanted to get rid of me for the summer!

Was working at 13 legal?

Probably not, but I was quite tall, so I got away with it!

What did you spend your first pay cheque on?

Probably sweets!

What’s the funniest thing that happened?

It was a very popular restaurant so we would routinely run out of cutlery. I’d find this incredibly stressful because I’d be having to lay the tables even though everybody else seemed to be super chilled about it. I was quite a big lad and my waistcoat was too small for me. I could only do up a couple of buttons with my belly sticking out underneath!

Apparently it’s traditional not to do up the bottom button of your waistcoat because Henry VIII was too fat to do up his.

Well, I wish someone had told me that at that time!

What skills did you learn that you still use today?

I learned not to panic and keep your cool, when the cutlery runs out. I got friendly with the kitchen staff because they used to feed me. So don’t panic when you’re under fire. And be friendly with everybody because you never know.

Are you still in contact with anyone from the restaurant?

I met the owner of the restaurant about a year ago before I left the UK to come and live in Dubai, and got treated to a slap-up Lebanese meal.

Why is alumni important?

Alumni pays respect to the processes and time you’ve shared together in battle. The emotional value builds a lot of trust.

What alumni networks are you part of?

A number including one for entrepreneurs called Unreasonable, and the Davos World Economic Forum, which gives tremendous access to some really cool people.

What would happen if you went back and did shift as a waiter in the restaurant today?

No responsibility, fast paced job, turn off after work, nice Lebanese food? I would bloody love it! I know how to give good service, so I think I would kill it on the tips.




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