Getting the old gang back together, Superbet-style

Getting the old gang back together, Superbet-style

Thursday, June 22, 2017 Posted by James Walker

Until it was announced towards the end of May that Superbet has poached the chief executive of Fortuna in Poland, along with the operation’s online marketing chief, it was starting to look like the company was intent on remodelling itself on the William Hill of just a few years ago.

First, it was announced in February that Jamie Hart, one-time trading director at William Hill and latterly managing director at Sun Bets, would be joining the Romanian-based operator as director of eCommerce.

Then in May it was disclosed that he is to be joined by former chief technology officer Finbarr Joy, and subsequently news emerged that Stuart Weston, William Hill’s former sportsbook director, was the next on the Superbet conveyor belt.

Founded by Sacha Dragic in 2009 and with a nearly 600-strong shop estate in Romania, the company clearly has online ambitions that extend far beyond the country’s borders, as is suggested by its Polish hires and by the news that the company has augmented its Gibraltar-based operation in expectation of expanding its dotcom business.

Moreover, the string of William Hill hires make sense given that, according to sources, former William Hill chief executive Ralph Topping is chairing an advisory board on behalf of Dragic and is giving his two-pennyworth on the plan to challenge the very biggest privately-owned operators in the sector.

But will this attempt to reassemble the team that – at least in part – was responsible for previous successes at William Hill work for Superbet?

The parallels from elsewhere in the sector are promising at least. The gambling industry is far from a closed shop, but there is a tendency for companies within the space to seek out hires among the existing cohort of those in management with prior experience in the space.

This is obvious when it comes to posts such as sportsbook trading director, where inherent industry knowledge is more than vital, but it also tends to be the case even in more generic posts such as marketing director, where there is a presumption of a greater degree of transferable skills.

“That is a fair summation, but these things go in cycles,” says Andrew Bulloss, partner at executive search firm Odgers Berndtson. “Two or three years ago there was an appetite for people from outside the industry, particularly from telcos and online retail.

“Clients wanted good, solid brand marketers. But now it is much more about product and pricing strategies, and so there is much more focus on recruiting people from within the sector.”

One company that Dragic and co might look to for inspiration in how to get a team of people together that truly works wonders is GVC. The company recently held a meeting with analysts at Sandown racecourse to go through the company’s plans and to give the assembled City scribes a peak behind the operational curtains.

The analysts undoubtedly liked what they saw and Nick Batram, himself an ex-analyst with Peel Hunt and now heading up the investor relations team at GVC, said that what was important with any hiring policy wasn’t where they individually came from, but whether they work together at their new employer.

“The difference with GVC is that we have a great mix,” he says, pointing to the likes of Shay Segev and Liron Snir who both originated at Playtech (via Ladbrokes Coral in Segev’s case), Sandeep Tiku, the chief technology officer who was previously working on the tech side with BwinParty and has been effectively internally promoted, Tom Waters, now head of the PartyPoker brand who came from Bwin’s games business intelligence unit, Adele Lawton, now head of bingo brands but originally from Gamesys, and Jim Humberstone, who was originally with Sportingbet.

Batram says there can be problems when companies attempt to hire a team outright from another firm. “I’ve seen it in investment banking,” he says. “You bring in a whole team from a competitor, but there is always one member that is there because effectively he is a mate of someone.”

What is clear with GVC is that a lot of the credit for the team building that has taken place since before the Bwin.Party acquisition can be ascribed to chief executive Kenny Alexander. “He’s been instrumental and he seldom gets it wrong,” says Batram. “Talent is one of the three pillars for the business, along with brands and technology.”

GVC is arguably being helped in its search for talent by the fallout from the ongoing consolidation process and the chain of events that often occurs in the wake of a spate of mergers across a sector. As Bulloss points out, though in the short-term M&A can be bad news for executive search businesses such as his, in the medium-term there can be benefits.

“Between six to 18 months down the line with merged entities, disillusionment with those handed roles at the time of the merger often sets in,” he says. “Plus the companies themselves often take another look at recruiting in that time period.”

Totally Gaming says: When it comes to industry appointments, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. Just as tapping specialists from within the industry has its advantages, so bringing in new talent from other sectors can help bring a fresh perspective to a gaming business – no matter how big or small.

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