Tuesday 20 March 2018

After shock exit, it's up to new boss to prove bookmaker has backed a winner

Breon Corcoran
Breon Corcoran
Gavin McLoughlin

Gavin McLoughlin

Paddy Power is best known for its cheeky ads, but behind the scenes, it's a very serious operation indeed. The stock market values the bookmaker at €6.75bn, and that's after some pretty hefty share price falls in recent times.

Last year, the company joined forces with Betfair - a website where users bet against each other, rather than a bookmaker - to create a true global giant of betting with operations in the US and Australia, as well as Europe. It has become one of Ireland's great business success stories - alongside the likes of Ryanair, CRH and Kerry Group.

At the centre of the combination was well-regarded Mullingar man Breon Corcoran. He joined Paddy Power in 2001 and rose to become the company's chief operations officer, before leaving to take the top job at Betfair in 2011. Last year's mega-merger brought him back to Paddy Power as he became chief executive of the combined entity. With his knowledge of both businesses, who better to oversee the integration process?

So to yesterday's shock news that Mr Corcoran is leaving the business, having been in the role just 18 months. The firm's share price took a bit of a battering on the news and is down to levels last seen in 2015.

Mr Corcoran (46) told the Irish Independent that having spent almost 17 years in the industry, he had developed an "itch" - a desire to go work somewhere else. He said he would like to see a bit more of his children, too.

"While it's not easy to leave a business that really most of my working life has been involved in, I don't want to wake up and not have tried something else," he said.

Bringing the business forward will now be the job of Peter Jackson, a highly sought-after young executive who knows the business well, having been a director of Paddy Power since 2013 and of the combined entity since last year's merger. One of Mr Corcoran's big jobs has been to oversee the integration of the Paddy Power and Betfair technology platforms. This has sapped resources from rolling out new digital products, but the job is nearly done, according to the outgoing boss.

You can expect all sorts of high-tech new ways of betting to hit the market by the time Mr Jackson has his feet under the table at Power Tower in Clonskeagh.

But his new job is no small challenge. Gambling is firmly ensconced as a mainstream pastime, and with that comes a lot of scrutiny of the unpleasant side of the bookmaking business. Regulatory pressures that might not otherwise exist have followed.

The government in Australia, where Paddy Power has a large online subsidiary called Sportsbet, has embarked on a major crackdown on gambling laws, and in the UK there has been much controversy about gaming machines called fixed odds betting terminals. There has been noise about tightening gambling advertising, as well.

The Irish company's advantage in all this is that it has the scale and financial firepower to cope with this trend better than perhaps any other bookmaker. Opportunities to acquire smaller rivals are bound to emerge and the company can use the economies of scale that follow to insulate itself against financial shocks.

Now it's up to Mr Jackson to prove the company's board has backed a winner.

Irish Independent

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