We caught up with Steve Birch, CEO of Sky Betting & Gaming, on how he became the head of one of the UK’s biggest gaming organisations, the challenges the industry is facing, and Steve’s ambitions for the company’s future.
Tell us a bit about your Sky Betting & Gaming, and your role, in your own words.
Sky Betting & Gaming is a fully online Betting and Gaming company, the 2 lead brands are Sky Bet and Sky Vegas. We have a focus on entertainment, building great products and delivering for customers, which has helped us grow to double digit market share over the last 10 years and we have millions of customers betting and playing with us each month. We have been owned by Flutter – who are one of the biggest gaming companies in the world – since May 2020 and so we have support from and access to some of the best gaming brands around the globe.
I was lucky enough to become CEO in September 2020, and get to lead this fantastic business.
What inspired you to join Sky Betting & Gaming?
I wanted a job! Working at Sky Betting & Gaming was my first full time job, I had moved to Leeds after university in 2007 and I was looking for a role. I had an interest in sport and betting but hadn’t really heard of Sky Bet until I started looking at jobs and a role in Harrogate (which is where the office was at the time) came up. As soon as I started I loved it, and I was so lucky to join a company that had an amazing open culture even back then, and we’ve had phenomenal growth since then. I’m also lucky I’ve just about managed to keep up!
Why do you think is Leeds such a thriving hub for tech businesses?
I think to become a strong tech hub you need to get lots right – from the businesses that are based in the city, to Leeds being a great place to live. Across the city there is a desire from lots of people I meet to grow and improve the city in every area from how easy it is to cycle, through to there being more apprenticeships available in the city region. Like anything, if enough people are pulling the same way, you’ll achieve success, and Leeds has lots of local advocates.
It feels like Leeds is now in a great cycle of having some really fantastic tech businesses that means more top talent is attracted into the city, and in turn more businesses – long may that continue.
What do you see as being the biggest challenges faced by the sector today, or your organisation, currently?
I think there are a few challenges; access to great talent is a perennial one. At Sky Betting & Gaming we are always trying to grow and so always have a long list of vacancies, especially Tech roles, across Leeds and Yorkshire we definitely have more great roles than people to fill them.
The next big challenge we are facing is the future of work, like lots of other businesses we have spent the last 16 months working fully remotely, and now our office is open we are letting staff choose if they want to come back. Personally I think there is a place for home working and being in the office and being able to pick either is great for people, I definitely think we have missed the innovation and inspiration working face to face with people brings.
However hybrid working has its own challenges, it is a different dynamic to manage having people in a meeting room on a call with people at home, we need to make sure being at home does but peoples career development at a disadvantage, and the challenges go on. We plan to spend the rest of 2021 really focusing on how to make hybrid working work for the business and staff.
Looking back, what has been the most pivotal moment in your career?
I definitely can’t pinpoint one exact moment, there have been quite a few ‘Penny Dropping’ moments though. The first was earlier on in my career as I started to work out how to influence and within that the importance of good insight and research, that has been a big driver in helping me progress in my career.
Over the last few years I have really started to appreciate the value in building strong teams, both from having high calibre people but also getting everyone working well together (and the time and effort that takes so that people understand each other and have effective ways of working).
Looking forward, what are your hopes and ambitions as a company?
We have great momentum behind us with growing customer numbers and revenues, our people have also done a fantastic job to keep delivering for customers whilst working from home. All that means we have a great platform to build on.
With that platform in place we want to keep being a great people first employer and further build on our strong track record of innovating in the Betting and Gaming market, bringing new products and marketing campaigns to customers. We pride ourselves on being leaders in Betting and Gaming and so we want to keep pushing ourselves to be at the forefront of new developments.
An area that I am keen we start to do more is involvement with Leeds, over the last few years we have good links into the Digital community in Leeds, but there is so much more we can do to put back into Leeds and help grow this fantastic city.
Who, or what, has been the single biggest influence on your working life?
This will sound corny but Sky Betting and Gaming has had the biggest influence! It is where I have spent my whole career, I have been lucky enough to work with some fantastic people which has been both loads of fun and very educational. I have been so lucky to be in an environment that gives autonomy to make things happen, combined with the support to learn.
Given how many fantastic people we have who have also grown their careers at Sky Betting and Gaming I know I’m not unique in that.
If you’d like to find out more about what Steve and Sky Betting & Gaming are up to head over to their website, and discover more of the city’s leading digital companies on the Leeds Tech Map.