Ian Penrose has evidently lost none of his ambition for corporate adventure if the current press speculation linking him with Playtech is anything to go by. And while Playtech is far from the ‘business turnaround’ job that Penrose is used to, it does present an intriguing American challenge in a post-PASPA world where legalised sports betting has really lit the touch paper.
A look at the fortunes of Sportech, the company he’s in the process of leaving at the end of this year, shows a remarkable transformation since he took over in 2006. Under his guidance, shares went from 65p to 97p in what Penrose described as a £150m net turnaround which cost, he said, a “huge investment of time and effort”.
The company was, back in 2006, on its uppers with a football pools business that had been savaged by the introduction of the National Lottery. Pre-lottery, circa ten million Brits were filling in their pools coupons every week. By the time the lottery had kicked into overdrive that number had collapsed to around 650,000. Eleven years later it was sold to FP Acquisitions for £83m following a highly successful modernisation programme.
Fast forward to the present day and Sportech is a very different prospect – a self-styled international betting technology business with its Sportech Racing/Digital; Sportech Venues; and Bump 50:50 business segments. He leaves behind him a firm that is in robust shape.
According to the press speculation, Penrose will join Playtech to advise on its US market expansion strategy. He will already be familiar with all things stateside. Sportech holds licences to conduct pari-mutuel betting in venue and via digital in Connecticut with further licences to operate betting venues in California. It also provides sports raffle solutions to some of North America’s major league and collegiate sports teams.
For Penrose, the alleged move to Playtech appears to be all about the technology, or more specifically helping drive the firm’s ambitions to be the premier, go-to technology provider for those seeking to capitalise on legal sports wagering in the US. It seems to be a perfect fit for the Preston North End FC supporter who has been described as affable and an effective diplomat with a penchant for using technology to improve the businesses he leads.