EGR Intel chats to SKS365 chief people officer Brian Dean about how the operator is using centralisation to bring together four distinct business models into one corporate ethos

SKS365 may well be one of Europe’s biggest online betting companies and an established EGR Power 50 operator, but it’s surprising just how little is actually known about the business. In short, SKS365 operates numerous sports betting businesses out of its main offices in Malta, Austria, Serbia, as well as in Italy where it has long been one of the biggest online and retail players in the sports betting market via its planetwin365 brand.

But aside from working tirelessly to grow market share in its core and non-core markets, what SKS365 has been doing behind the scenes is equally as fascinating. The company has been plugging away in the background to establish the working environment and skills bedrock which it hopes will enable it to become one of the leading lights in European sports betting.

Key to this strategy has been a focus on evolving the corporate culture, with the business recently taking the decision to publish details of its focus areas online for the first time. “Our investment in this collective approach is another strand in our culture development work and continues to be a key differentiator in a highly competitive industry for key skills and great people,” SKS365 chief people officer Brian Dean explains.

Dean chats to EGR Intel about the development of this framework and its aspirations for the long-term success of the sports betting operator.

 EGR Intel: How important was it to your ongoing strategy to formalise your corporate culture in one guide?

Brian Dean (BD): The culture within an organisation is the key differentiator and fundamental to our, and indeed any firm’s, long-term success as an organisation. We see the creation of our employee guide as just one of the stepping stones on this journey towards developing a successful corporate culture. One of our core business objectives is operating compliantly. For HR this meant delving into policies, procedures, mandatory learnings and ensuring we were fulfilling our obligations to our staff as their employer. I wanted to produce something that people would actually read from start to finish, not just the boring policies, while at the same time expressing who we are as a firm and what’s different about us.

Regardless of what office people are based in, we are all on the same journey and I thought this was the ideal way to engage all members of staff, while at the same time making a statement to the external market. This was a pressing business issue and I chose to tackle it in a creative way, something which I know will get us on the way to developing the SKS culture.

EGR Intel: What role did your staff play in this process?

BD: Like a lot of these things, they start with ideas and with specific functions but if you’re going to move the organisation forward then it is paramount that you engage with your people, collect the diverse opinions and views. It’s a simple approach but if you get it right from the start you are on the right track to driving your organisation in the right direction.

EGR Intel: Which of the six fundamental pillars in the SKS guide do you think is the most important and why?

BD: I think they’re all important obviously, but I think for me it comes back to the ‘One SKS’ and operating as one organisation. It’s about applying an open mind and being respectful to the nuances of each country location.

For me, that’s something that I’m passionate about, getting people collaborating, getting the communication right regardless of which function you work in or which office you are based in. It’s about avoiding putting people into silos, accepting the diversity in ideas that this creates and ultimately making the organisation as a whole aligned to one plan.

EGR Intel: What training and development do you provide to your employees?

BD: Well, building our capability is a fundamental pillar of my HR plan and in quarter one of this year alone, we delivered over 4,000 hours of training to staff members. Considering in the past year or two we’ve hardly delivered any training whatsoever to members of staff, I’m proud that we’ve landed some important programmes that will make a difference to people.

I think of this training in two parts: mandatory learning and individual/team development. So, I engaged an online compliance training platform to develop our programme of mandatory training that focuses on responsible gaming, anti-money laundering and GDPR to name a few parts of the course. It is our responsibility as an employer to educate our staff on all those important compliance issues. No-one is exempt from the top of the house down and all staff must complete the annual training.

Concurrently, we designed a leadership development programme and management toolkit for both current and future leaders. This focuses on leadership styles, performance development, objective setting and conversations through to communications skills. The third and final part is in-role specific training, whether that’s professional qualifications i.e. for our financial professionals, or soft skills such as dealing with customers if you are a customer service advisor.

EGR Intel: Is there an element of responsible gambling education to this?

BD: Absolutely. That’s the number one module that everyone must go through on their mandatory training and we constantly work with external agencies to make sure that we are updating that material. I can say with confidence that we are 100% compliant and that we are playing our part as a responsible operator.

EGR Intel: In your opinion, what benefits does this provide to SKS365?

BD: First and foremost, I think it’s beneficial in educating our employees in ways to identify problem gamblers and provide them with assistance. In addition to that, RG training drives what I think are behaviours that positively impact the working environment, making it a great place to work and making us more attractive as an organisation for potential new employees.

As an industry, the markets in which we are based are becoming very, very competitive in terms of attracting great people and people with different skillsets. We must be on the front foot and be aware of how best to continue to evolve our proposition so we stand out from the competition. Places such as Malta, Belgrade and Rome are not getting any easier to attract talent.

EGR Intel: What kind of benefits do your employees receive as part of the new focus on company culture?

BD: We have reviewed the benefits we offer to our employees. We listened to what was important to our people, whether that is medical cover in Belgrade, lunches in Rome or parking in Malta and we have adapted our offering based on the feedback. We have also thrown things into the mix like happy hours in our office bars, movie nights as well as other social events and supporting causes that are close to our people’s hearts.

EGR Intel: How often do you plan to review/update these policies and who will be responsible for this?

BD: We have established an HR operations team, which I can honestly say is one of the best I have ever worked with. They have a great leader in Alessia Casonato, who is not one for sitting back on her laurels. We will continue to engage with the communities and the people in each location to understand whether things continue to be fit for purpose or do they need to be changed. I think if you don’t challenge yourself to think that way then complacency sets in and you start becoming the same as every other employer.

EGR Intel: Can you tell me more about the development of the SKS365 development portal?

 BD: We’ve built an internal portal which we use for everything from internal communications information, sharing how-to guides and courses which are available to all our employees and our Performance Development programme.

It’s just a very simple way of connecting people across all the locations with key initiatives and information that’s relevant. We make sure that we produce information both in English as well as the local languages, which I think is important to ensure the key messages aren’t lost. It’s also about being respectful of the fact that although we may want to act as one organisation, sometimes we just need to appreciate that communicating certain messages in local dialects is more effective.

EGR Intel: In what ways do you establish a “clear focus” on bringing value to the customer?

BD: Mainly through engagement, taking feedback from our customers and spending time trying to understand the whole customer experience, whether it be online or retail. The key thing again is clear and frequent communications, being prepared to listen to the good and bad messages, engagement and building relationships with players through open and honest feedback.

EGR Intel: What are your priorities in this area for the rest of 2019?

 BD: Our primary focus in the second half of the year is embedding the SKS approach to performance development, the basis of which is continuous feedback and leveraging the individual’s strengths. People want to be given the direction and understanding of what is expected of them and similarly the forum to share and feedback on how they are doing. Continuous dialogue and the constant gathering of information and feedback will make us as well a more effective organisation going forward. We have designed and built this program in-house and are immensely proud of what the team has delivered.

EGR Intel: In the highly competitive Malta egaming sector, what is SKS365 doing to recruit the most proficient individuals in egaming and sports betting?

BD: All of our locations are highly competitive for the type of skills that we require but to use an adage I’ve talked about previously, it’s about differentiation. That could be in the office environment that we create, from our approach to the office dress code or getting the most out of people. We like to think that the people will sell this organisation and good people will want to work for inspiring leaders and great colleagues who can give them the energy and drive to perform at their best.

We’re trying to present our organisation in that way and although our messaging in the employee guidebook will help us do that, it’s just the start. To be successful in that, we must be consistent in our messaging to make sure that we have those ambassadors and people that represent our value proposition so it doesn’t come across as rehearsed, it comes across as natural and authentic.

I think you can tell the difference between the two, someone who brings the message to life. You can see the passion about the organisation and what we are. all about. That comes from visible leadership from the executive team, clear messages, communication and engagement with our people. I don’t think it’s any more complicated than that.

EGR Intel: Do you have any plans to expand your existing workforce of 500 employees over the coming months?

BD: We have grown extensively over the last 18 months with nearly 200 people joining us.  For now, we are concentrated on more consolidation of our workforce and adapting to the demands of the business. The areas of our business that we will feel pressure to grow in will be our IT and technology teams. I’m sure that is the same with all our competitors.

EGR Intel: Are you concerned about the effects the relocation of bet365 to Malta will have on the island’s egaming market and employment market?

BD: I will continue to be concerned when there is more competition added to what is already a very crowded market, however I am much more confident in our proposition and ability to attract the right people than I was six months ago. We have embraced things like internal mobility programmes and recruitment with relocation for prospective new employees. Of course, I’d like to think our new offices in Spinola Bay certainly stand out from our competition.

EGR Intel: How important is it that SKS365 makes a fresh start in terms of its business model following the tribulations of the last 12 months?

BD: Every company I have ever worked for has its challenges from time to time and SKS365 is no different. We continue to go from strength to strength as a business in terms of achieving our business goals. We have forged strong links with our regulators and enjoy an open and honest dialogue with them. We have several very experienced and recognised individuals who have joined our management ranks. We have a defined and exciting business plan to transform this business and so far nothing’s really detracted us from that. It’s not about restarting or reinventing ourselves, for me it’s about holding our nerve and continuing the journey.

EGR Intel: Which of the four jurisdictions that you have offices in presents the biggest opportunity for the business?

BD: Our Italian business, with its 1,000 shops and online offering, will continue to be our primary focus as we strive to gain more market share and achieve our aspirations of becoming the number one betting firm in the Italian market for retail and online.

EGR Intel: Now that the Italian ad ban is nearly coming into force, what is SKS365 doing to counter this?

BD: We are no different than the rest of our competitors in that we have been focused on both understanding the directive from the Italian government and how best can we engage with our customers. We have a number of initiatives in the pipeline and don’t want to divulge too much as our marketing team are very protective and proud.

This is where you don’t just have plan A and plan B, you’re probably down to plan X, Y or Z depending on if everything goes ahead or if there will be changes going on. That’s why having our network of retail shops is so critical to our business plan.

EGR Intel: Do you plan to expand your operations into any other jurisdictions in the immediate future? If yes, which ones?

BD: Not in the immediate future, but international expansion is never far from the thoughts of any board or executive team. For us, it’s definitely some way in the future. We still have an enormous amount of work to do in terms of Italy and the stuff we want to do, whether that’s land-based or online.