By Tim Poole
Why become a CEO when you can spend your days speaking to the most influential CEOs in the industry? That’s the way I view things in the gaming sector right now – until my CEO job comes in the post, of course.
As we at Gambling Insider look ahead to our CEO Special for 2020, I’ve been looking back at the CEOs I’ve dealt with in my time here so far: some for the CEO Special, some for the US CEO Special and others for completely separate assignments.
What I’ve found is there has certainly been no shortage of personalities. From the straight-talking Kenny Alexander of GVC Holdings, to the ever-positive Jesper Svensson at Betsson Group, the gaming industry boasts a variety of strong characters at its very top level.
Whatever approach each CEO takes, they don't shy away from the need to stand out. Those that survive simply have to, such is the nature of executive turnover – not just in this industry.
Only in recent weeks, Relax Gaming and Helio Gaming have appointed new CEOs, while William Hill was the biggest name in the sector to appoint a new leader in chief during the latter half of this year.
But stand out is exactly what certain executives have done with aplomb. It was clear to me why AGS CEO David Lopez won his American Executive of the Year Award at the Global Gaming Awards Las Vegas, for example, just from a 30-minute conversation with him: he was honest and forthcoming.
American Gaming Association CEO Bill Miller was much the same, both in person and over the phone, while the aforementioned Svensson has the power to make anyone feel good about the industry.
There is a clear contrast with some executives, like Kambi’s Kristian Nylén, Playtech’s Mor Weizer and LeTou’s Paul Fox. The trio are very to the point and you can see exactly how their no-nonsense attitudes have brought them success at C-level.
My colleagues have also conducted memorable interviews of their own with some of the sector’s biggest names, coming out of those conversations with a newfound appreciation of the very industry issues we discuss on a daily basis.
Joe Asher’s lawyer-like precision was hard to miss in our Gaming America special, while Therese Hillman’s appearance in our last CEO Special gave us a new appreciation of how she reached her leadership position at NetEnt.
If I had to pick a favourite of my personal interviews, I’d have to be a little biased and say Jim Murren of MGM Resorts International.
It would be no lie however, to suggest Murren’s willingness to speak openly would have made the interview worth the 10-hour flight even if we weren’t surrounded by luxury.
They say ‘nice guys never win’ but Red Tiger Gaming CEO Gavin Hamilton and Interblock CEO John Connelly have earned success while coming across, to me at the very least, as genuinely decent characters. At ICE London, meanwhile, SBTech CEO Richard Carter and DraftKings CEO Jason Robins were no disappointments.
Were I to choose an underrated favourite, a CEO interview which surpassed all my expectations, I’d go with Lopez – for his sheer honesty and that rare laudable ability to publicly praise competitors.
An honourable mention goes out to my first CEO chat in this job: Robbie Morris of Two-Up Digital, who offered enough insight to challenge the big boys without a shadow of a doubt.
But the fun doesn't stop there, as our editorial team ploughs on and interviews our next group of high-profile gaming executives. On that note, look out for our CEO Special in the January/February edition of Gambling Insider magazine.
As Leicester City football manager Brendan Rodgers infamously used to say, I hope they keep showing "great character."