Kenneth Alexander is to step down as chief executive of GVC after transforming the company from a small gambling tech group into one of the world’s biggest bookmakers over the 13 years he was in charge.
Mr Alexander took over in 2007 and oversaw more than £5bn worth of acquisitions, including bookmaker Ladbrokes Coral and rival Bwin.party.
He made the decision to retire from the company while working from home in Scotland for four months during the coronavirus lockdown. Mr Alexander will hand over to his chief operating officer, Shay Segev, on Friday.
“I have given 13 years to GVC and I now want to give some time to my family,” he said. “It has been very clear for a number of years now that Shay is the right person to succeed me.”
The leadership change comes after months of Covid-19 restrictions that have put sports fixtures on hold and closed high street bookmakers.
The damage to GVC from the pandemic was revealed on Thursday as the gambling group reported a 22 per cent fall in total net revenues in the second quarter.
However, a boom in gaming catapulted its online revenue by more than 20 per cent to soften the blow. Earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortisation in the first half were forecast to be higher than expected at £340m to £350m.
Mr Segev will take over as gambling groups vie to win customers in the prized US market, which has been gradually making sports betting legal state-by-state.
Under Mr Alexander, GVC formed a joint venture with the world’s biggest casino operator, MGM Resorts, to break into the US market, where it plans to expand as it offsets a UK gambling industry facing a regulatory crackdown.
Ralph Topping, a former William Hill chief executive, said “Kenny” deserves “all the credit I can give” for transforming GVC from a £26m minnow focused on emerging markets such as Turkey and Brazil into an industry leading FTSE 100 company.
Mr Alexander is an avid poker player and horseracing owner. He owns a stud farm in Ayrshire, rural Scotland, and a number of steeds including Honeysuckle, which won one of the major races at Cheltenham Festival this year.
Mr Topping described the chief executive as “a Gulliver in the land of Lilliputters”, referring to the tale in which an adventurer lands on an island inhabited with self-important people less than six inches tall.
Despite being a gambling aficionado, Mr Alexander, who worked as an accountant before joining Sportingbet in 2000 when he saw an advert in the Racing Post, is “not a reckless individual”, he added.
Israeli citizen Mr Segev, 44, joined GVC in 2016, after working as the chief strategy officer at Gala Coral. He runs large parts of the business including its retail business, M&A activity, technology platform and US joint venture.
“I am succeeding [Mr Alexander] at a time when the business is in robust financial health with an exceptional team and exciting opportunities ahead of it, especially in the US,” he said.
But Mr Topping noted his surprise at the sudden nature of the announcement and the suggestion that they had not considered external candidates.
“I would have expected a transition arrangement to be in place,” he said.
GVC’s share price fell by almost 5 per cent following the announcement.