Richard Flint has run Sky Betting and Gaming for fifteen years. After studying at Oxford and then Harvard, he initially looked to a career in politics, but caught the tech bug while working for McKinsey during the dotcom boom. Flint joined Sky shortly before it launched its Leeds-based betting division, and has remained in charge of it after the firm sold an 80% stake to CVC Capital Partners in 2015.
What was your hardest job?
When I was 18, I spent two weeks looking after severely disabled people at a place called the Winged Fellowship (now Revitalise), which provides holiday care. It was very rewarding and I have enormous respect for those who do it as a career, but I knew I didn’t have the emotional strength.
If you’d not gone into business, what would you have done?
When I’m out on my bike around the Yorkshire Dales, there’s a lot of fighter planes flying over. Quite often I think that could have been me. I did the exams to be a fighter pilot in secondary school, but failed the medical on the grounds of asthma.
Which company or boss do you admire the most?
I like the way Simon Mottram has built Rapha cycling accessories into a UK brand in a relatively short time. It’s focused on the whole breadth of customer experience and it’s really embraced the internet rather than having its margins eroded by controlled distribution.
The betting industry often gets negative press over problem gambling. How do you manage that? CSR overdrive?
On a given weekend, there are three million people betting online, but the focus is always on the tiny majority who have problems. I’m not denying there are people with issues or that the government needs to regulate the industry to look after those people, but it has undue attention compared to the vast majority who enjoy it as part of their daily activities.
The problem gambling rate in the UK is 0.5% and it hasn’t grown since the advent of online betting. As an industry, we haven’t done a great job of communicating that or the way we look after people who do have problems.
As for CSR, we should recognise we’re doing something that for the vast majority is a positive thing. We’re involved in CSR activities like the Teenage Cancer Trust, but if I felt what we were doing at our core was bad, I wouldn’t feel comfortable making it up with CSR.
Your firm used to be part of the Sky mothership, but it’s now 80% owned by private equity outfit CVC Capital Partners. How’s it different?
Most of the running of the business is the same, but as part of Sky we were never the main focus. The biggest concerns were hitting our contribution targets and making sure we didn’t subject the core business to too much volatility. That was increasingly challenging as we grew – it’s in the nature of the betting business to be volatile. (We lost £5m on Leicester winning the Premier League but we’ll have good weekends too.)
We also never got strategic investment – it was always to make sure we hit our numbers towards the end of the financial year. In the private equity environment there’s a recognition that we’ll have ups and downs, and the opportunity to invest beyond the end of the year.
A bet’s a bet. How do you differentiate yourself from your rivals?
We do offer broadly similar products. We differentiate ourselves firstly by being outstandingly good – the best native platform, CRM, targeted offers, loyalty programmes etc – and secondly through everything that Sky brings. It’s a brand people love, and we offer free-to-play games as part of the Sky Sports experience.
What advice would you give to an 18 year-old just leaving school?
That’s very easy - learn to code. It will make you a better manager in tech driven businesses and an increasingly tech driven world.
If we gave you a magic wand and three wishes, what would you use them for?
Arsenal to win the Premier League, ten more beautifully warm days in Yorkshire every year and a traffic-free cycle from Harrogate to Leeds every day.
University of Oxford/Harvard or University of Life?
Oxford/Harvard. You can have the university of life after going to an actual university. I enjoyed my undergraduate at Oxford a lot more than grad school at Harvard – it was more focused on thinking for yourself. At Harvard the education was narrower but the life experience and self-discovery were greater being abroad.
Coffee or Tea?
Brexit or Bremain?
I think I’ll take the fifth on that one.
Finance or sales?