In May 2018, Andy Fire was fired from his position as CEO of Betting Online. Before becoming the CEO, Fire was running the company’s United Kingdom operations. He was well-known for taking on the role of CEO during a time of crisis, which led to some interesting turns of events.
The Challenge Of Managing A Company During A Time Of Crisis
When you’re the CEO of a company, there’s always the opportunity to make big decisions. While some might perceive this as a blessing, being in that position can also lead to many headaches. One of the major challenges that Fire faced was managing the company during a time of crisis. He was essentially in charge of the company’s operations in the United Kingdom at that time, and the Brexit vote in June 2018 threw his responsibilities into sharp relief.
In an interview with Business Insider, Fire explained, “The referendum was definitely a wake-up call. We knew that it was going to be close, but we didn’t realize just how close it was going to be.” The vote left Fire scrambling as he tried to ensure that business continued as usual.
As the company’s largest shareholder, Fire was responsible for ensuring that the company’s shareholders were financially protected. So, while most other CEOs would have been worried about the short-term implications of the Brexit vote, Fire was more concerned about how it would affect his company’s long-term prospects. He knew that his company’s future lay in the hands of buyers not members of the EU, and that many uncertainties surrounded the vote.
The Road To Recovery
After the referendum, many pundits expected disaster. The UK Parliament had to work quickly to establish new laws to keep the country’s financial institutions afloat, and in the months that followed, industry insiders and foreign exchange traders spoke in hushed tones about the damage that Brexit would cause.
However, as the dust settled, it became clear that the referendum hadn’t been as cataclysmic as many people believed. While the process was undoubtedly complex, it wasn’t exactly as bad as many feared. Banks and other financial services companies quickly bounced back, and the value of the pound stabilised at a level that made imports less expensive.
For the industry as a whole, the results of the Brexit vote were positive. After years of uncertainty, the UK financial services industry experienced an inflow of cash as international banks settled accounts and made new investments. Many high-profile banks established London branches and/or opened new offices, further strengthening the position of the UK as a global financial centre.
What Went Wrong?
Despite the positive developments that followed the Brexit vote, Fire’s position as CEO during that time was always going to be difficult. He was responsible for leading the company he founded and grew into a significant business, and he had the added burden of trying to protect the company’s financial future.
However, leading up to the Brexit vote, there were warning signs that things weren’t going well. According to an investigation by the Daily Telegraph, in the last year of his tenure, Fire’s pay soared by 300% to £486,000, while his company’s share price fell by 42% over the same period. The Telegraph published the results of their investigation into the death of Mpho Tutu, a 46-year-old British pharmacist who suffered from depression and took her own life in February 2017. Her family blamed the stress of running the Royal Pharmaceutical Society’s (RPS) pharmacy business, among other things, for her death. A member of the RPS for 21 years, Tutu was the society’s longest-serving female president. From 2012 to 2016, she served as chairman of the pharmacy school at the University of Manchester.
In the months before her death, Tutu told friends that she was worried that her workload was increasing and becoming too much. She also complained that she had been receiving anonymous letters threatening her and the school. Unfortunately, neither Tutu nor her family had the opportunity to read the anonymous letters because they were both murdered before they could learn what was written in them. However, it’s still unclear who was behind the threatening letters or why they wanted to scare Tutu and the school. This is a tragedy that could have been avoided if the family had only known that they were being threatened. Unfortunately, the lesson of Tutu’s death seems to be that you can’t always trust what your senses are telling you, and that something might be going on that you’re not aware of.
The Fallout From The Royal Pharmaceutical Society’s Investigation
The Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS), the professional body that represents pharmacists in the UK, announced an investigation into Tutu’s death. According to a report by the RPS, the investigation found that there were “shortcomings in the school’s and pharmacists’ approach to addressing mental health.” The report also stated that in the two years before her death, Tutu “had become increasingly distressed and had sought help for her distress.” Furthermore, the report concluded that “the school and pharmacists hadn’t adopted an approach that had addressed her needs sufficiently.”
Since the investigation was published, the RPS has begun a review of its working practices and has established an independent panel to look into ways of improving mental health support for pharmacists. The review will consider issues such as staffing, workload, stress, and family and social support. It’s important to note here that the RPS is an independent body, and its recommendations do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the government or the Royal College of Pharmacists (RCPh), the body that the RPS represents. The RCPh declined Business Insider’s request for an interview but stated in an email that it “wholeheartedly agrees” with the review’s goals.
The Pivotal Role Of Paddy Cosgrave
One of the significant turning points in the decline of Andy Fire’s tenure as CEO of Betting Online came when Paddy Cosgrave replaced him. Cosgrave had been COO of the company for nearly a decade and had spent much of that time leading the company’s international expansion. Prior to his promotion, the Dublin-based business had already launched operations in Australia and Canada, and he was responsible for opening a representative office in Japan. As an experienced business leader, Cosgrave was the perfect person to step into Andy Fire’s shoes during a time of crisis.
However, it wouldn’t be fair to say that Fire’s ousting was entirely the work of external factors. His tenure at Betting Online came to an end not because of the Brexit vote but because he failed to see eye-to-eye with the company’s largest shareholder, the hedge fund Elliott Management. The two men had been in a business relationship for years, and Elliott Management believed that it was time for a major shift in how the business was being run. In February 2019, Elliott announced that it would acquire a controlling stake in Betting Online and appoint three new board members.
On its website, Elliott Management described the company’s motivation for taking over Betting Online as follows: “We believe that the world’s best-performing equity market in 2018 was the result of an attractive demographic, an improving economic backdrop, and active stock picking – rather than the result of any one factor. We think this long-term trend will continue. Consequently, we want to make sure that Betting Online is well-placed to benefit from this growth and is positioned to deliver strong returns to shareholders for years to come.”
While Elliott Management’s motivation for taking over Betting Online is admirable, the motivations of the company’s new directors might not be so pure. One of the directors, Richard Windsor, owns a stake in the British newspaper The Independent and is on the board of Cambridge Analytica, a data firm that has been accused of inappropriate data collection and use.
Elliott Management’s Criticism Of The Old Guard
It’s important to note that just because a business is acquired by a third party, it doesn’t mean that the original stakeholders are going to fade away. In many cases, the incoming shareholders will have a relationship with the employees and will attempt to maintain some of the company’s traditions. In other words, even when one business disappears, its presence isn’t totally erased from the scene.
This was certainly the case with Betting Online. After Elliott took over the business, it continued to operate with its original board, headed by Oliver Knight and including Bob Diamond, the CEO of Barclays and a former CEO of Rizk Holdings, the Qatar-based investment firm.
In an interview with The Guardian, Bob Diamond said that he and Oliver Knight were committed to maintaining a close working relationship with the Elliott management team and expected to continue in their role as directors of the company. He went on to say that he and Knight “love the fact that Elliott has taken the company to a new level, and we’re really looking forward to working with them.”