Are younger CEOs making their mark on the gaming sector?

By Tim Poole

In August 1995, a well-known Scottish football pundit famously said "you can’t win anything with kids." He was discussing Manchester United’s youthful English Premier League team after a 3-1 opening-day defeat to Aston Villa. That team went on to win the Premier League that season, before winning it another 10 times under the same manager.

The lesson for the now-retired Alan Hansen was simple. It turns out, youth can succeed – just as it turns out you can be remembered for one unfortunate quote for the rest of your career.

While those Manchester United players weren’t actually "kids" (many of them were in their late teens and early 20s), they were considered incredibly young for the professional and demanding arena they performed in every week.

But it’s not just in football where this concept applies. In tennis, Cori "Coco" Gauff is taking the women’s game by storm at the meagre age of 15. In the music and YouTube industries, youth equates to success on a regular basis. So what about the boardroom?

In business, age is just a number and countless young entrepreneurs have transformed their respective fields over the years. There are however, some commonly accepted practices, which it’s fair to say apply to the gaming sector as they do anywhere else. CEOs are supposed to be older, wiser and more experienced than most of the employees they’ll deal with. Why would an international operator hire a 28-year-old when a 56-year-old possesses twice as much life experience?

Two notable pieces of industry news this week suggest that traditional line of thinking may no longer be as clearcut. With the ever-growing influence of the digital age within gaming (and all sectors), younger executives are becoming more common. They are not just fashionable either, they are genuinely making their mark.

Our first example is Dominik Beier, whose appointment as Interwetten’s Speaker of the Board (an equivalent title to CEO) in early 2019 caused an industry stir. Here was a 27-year-old leading a company soon to celebrate its 30th birthday. Yes, the company has been alive longer than him. But, in Beier’s first year in the job, Interwetten has achieved gross gaming revenue growth of 25% year-on-year for 2019, generating €99.5m ($109.9m) in revenue. The operator took over €2bn in wagers for the first time, a 30% rise, and boosted its EBITDA margin by 64% (from 16.7% to 22.4%).

The Austrian, who spent several years at Sportradar prior to his current role, hailed "fantastic teamwork across all company divisions." Speaking to Gambling Insider shortly after joining Interwetten, he gave early clues as to how he would boost this "car driving 60-70kph on cruise control."

He said: "I always wanted responsibility, to change things, instead of complaining about why CEOs or companies don’t do this or that. The biggest thing to achieve as a team is to get hungry again, not being happy with what we have achieved over the past 30 years. I think it’s a management issue that, over the past two or three years, the goals and vision have been missing.

"That’s the reason one of the first things I did was define new goals. Now, I feel like people are hungry and motivated again because they want to achieve those goals. Interwetten was like a car driving 60-70kph on cruise control; but they were never going faster or slower. The first thing I said was ‘guys, we have to get rid of that cruise control.’”

Our second notable case is that of Juliet Adelstein, who has mastered a quick and successful rise to the position of Ganapati CEO, less than two years after joining the supplier. Adelstein was rewarded for her efforts and achievements at the company thus far with the announcement she will become CEO on 1 February.

There’s little wonder, considering Adelstein played a crucial part in securing partnerships with both Manny Pacquiao and, most recently, Usain Bolt. The latter will be at ICE London promoting his new 'Usain Bolt' slot game with Ganapati.

"Me being appointed as CEO is a reflection very much of the board’s and the company’s goal of globalising and shifting things to have more power in our European offices, rather than being so reliant on Japan,” Adelstein told Gambling Insider after her appointment. "The new company motto as of this year is: ‘The rehearsal’s over – it’s show time.’

"What that means is up until now was preparation and the setting of the base, but from this year it’s the serious stuff. We need to prove to everyone we can deliver the results we’ve been saying we can the whole time; and I’m very confident we can.”

Of course, in both the cases of Beier and Adelstein, there may be a number of favourable external factors at play. In no small part, both will be extremely grateful for the hard work of others; indeed, this is not to single them out too much to be lavished with praise.

But the salient facts are two young executives are proving a more youthful approach to boardroom recruitment can pay off in an agile technological sector such as gaming. Importantly, they are just two examples in an industry where, while the more experienced CEOs will always have plenty to offer, there is now less and less of a fear factor about hiring someone without decades of experience.


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