Searching for talent

By Gambling Insider
Headhunting firm SRI recently tapped industry veteran Ben Fried to lead its betting and gaming practice. We sat down with him to discuss the search for talent in a rapidly growing industry.

So, first things first, what enticed you to join SRI?

You get to a point in your career when you’re looking for something new. And with over 20 years of experience in the industry, I recognise that leadership and top talent are one of the most important things – if not the most important thing – for businesses. So having the opportunity to affect that, helping clients and candidates find the right fit, was quite a compelling proposition for me.

If you’re successful in executive search and recruitment, then the client is really happy because they’ve got the best possible candidate available; the candidate is overjoyed, because they have hopefully found a life-changing role; and the search consultant is happy because they’ve done a successful job.

SRI is global, which is great, but it has a really interesting mantra, which is slightly different, and I really bought into it. We say that we are small enough to care, but big enough to influence and bold enough to challenge.

Could you explain the executive search process and how you go about connecting companies with talent?

There’s an objective selection process, and it’s specifically designed to minimise unconscious bias, thereby promoting diversity to ensure we have a really fair process. This is all about agreeing on the competencies and the critical skills that will drive success within any given role.

So we objectively evaluate those candidates against those criteria, and skills competencies, and then we facilitate the client-candidate interactions throughout the process, presenting a great long list and then a shortlist to the client. As and when the client hopefully makes a selection from that list, we step in and help manage the process so that we’re representing the best interests of the candidate, and the client.

The betting and gaming industry worldwide is undergoing a big period of regulation and re-regulation. Do you foresee this posing any new challenges when it comes to executive search?

100%, it already is. The role of compliance, legislation, the do's, the don’ts and the pitfalls you can stumble into are a big challenge for the industry. Staying on top of all this is proving to be a real challenge for some of these global companies. It’s not just state-by-state regulation in the US, it’s the UK market changing regularly, every market in Europe updating its regulation; you’ve got grey markets, you’ve got black markets and from what I can see, a huge amount of disparity in the complexity of regulation in different regions.

I think you have to look at other sectors, and you have to look at smart and creative ways to get talent over to the US to help this state-by-state approach. But as that talent moves, it reduces talent in the European market, and it’s not like the European market isn’t a huge betting and gaming market as well. It’s still bigger than the US, and is forecast, I believe, to be bigger than the US for the next couple of years. It’s just that growth isn’t happening at the same pace. Diversity is also important in all industries, and there should be no difference for betting and gaming. It is and should be a focus, and has been over the last few years, though it should have been for longer.

You mentioned this sort of brain drain that’s happening from Europe to the US. How is Europe responding?

Since there are fewer, very large companies – like Flutter and Entain – they’re able to move, internally, their talent between jurisdictions. But if I was sat at the leadership table at one of these businesses, I would want to put my best talent in the high-growth markets, because that’s where the war will be won in a lot of ways.

But it chimes with how it was in the early 2000s. Betting operators put a lot of weight into customer acquisition, and forgot about customer retention. I think managing the multimillion pounds worth of revenue in European markets should be as important a focus as capturing the growth in higher-growth markets. It remains to be seen, for me, whether companies are doing that effectively.