Kicking off October, SBC begins its ‘spotlight features’ by interviewing Microgaming Senior Partnerships lead Mark Robinson on his unique journey from All Black rugby international to igaming executive.
As the industry faces critical questions on how to broaden its workforce appeal to new talent, Robinson reflects on his critical choices and learnings that have seen his career transition from professional athlete to investment banking and now working in igaming.
SBC: Mark great to interview you. From All Black to Gaming Executive, can you detail your unique career journey to SBC Audiences?
Mark Robinson (Microgaming): It certainly wasn’t a journey I expected, but I can safely say, it is one that I am incredibly blessed to have found.
I moved over to the UK 2003 and played at both Northampton and Wasps before retiring in 2010. However, I was always very focused on life after rugby and studied throughout my professional career. Determined on moving into Banking post-retirement, I sat my Securities and Regulation papers whilst still playing (in readiness for the move). Sadly, the job I had secured at Credit Suisse was taken away only a week prior to the date I was due to start. The bank cut the whole desk, there was a lot of uncertainty in the Banking industry during this time, so evaluating the environment, I decided to explore other opportunities.
I was later offered a position at Tullett Prebon in Johannesburg to help set up their local Fixed Income business. They needed a local presence and I jumped at the opportunity in presented.
Whilst working in Johannesburg, I met my partner Hollie and It was a Christmas in 2015 when visiting Hollie’s parents in the Isle of Man, that she said I should look at what was happening job wise on the Island and Microgaming got in touch.
I met Andy Clucas COO and the rest of the executive team and a job offer followed promptly after. I loved my time in South Africa, but family comes first, and it just wasn’t the right environment to bring up my little girl.
So, it’s been a great journey that started with a move from NZ to Northampton, then on to Wasps in London, followed by a move to South Africa to meet a girl from the Isle of Man, to end up working for Microgaming! I now couldn’t be happier…
SBC: Was joining the gaming sector a tough decision from you, knowing its somewhat controversial reputation and your past as a pro athlete?
MR: Near the end of my career I was friends with a lot of guys in the financial markets and as I studied finance as part of my degree, I naturally felt this was the direction I wanted to move into. Hindsight is a beautiful thing, but I honestly wish I had of been directed in the way of the online Gaming market earlier. It Impressed on me the professionalism of the gaming industry and the growth and opportunity the industry possesses.
You could easily challenge the Banking industry for the way they have conducted themselves in the mist of the financial crisis, so I wasn’t too worried about the gaming sector.
SBC: What has been your toughest adjustment from being involved day-to-day in professional sports to working in igaming?
MR: Life after professional sports is a complete shock to the system. In that environment, you are institutionalised and most certainly not prepared for the real world. You go from being top of your game, a leader and respected to having to start right back at the bottom. It took a huge amount of humility and hard work.
As an individual, I am very driven to succeed and you are trying to transfer the skills learned being in the best environment in the world, the All Blacks, to the corporate environment.
In the gaming industry, there are some seriously smart and talented individuals, so I am continuingly learning from people, applying empathic awareness and developing my own identity.
I am fortunate that not only within Microgaming but in my customer base, there are some great people whom I respect and have built great relationships with and every day I am learning.
SBC: Competing in a global marketplace, iGaming is often considered a somewhat insular industry for new talent to join. From your personal experience, what approach should industry incumbents undertake to become more appealing to a global workforce?
MR: As an industry that operates in a global market, diversity is a key ingredient to ensure our products remain relevant and attractive to the diverse range of customers that we serve as well as to be able to attract and retain a diverse range of skill and talent.
At Microgaming, they have recognised this and has for some time demonstrated itself to be an attractive employer to a variety of talent; attracting talent from outside of the industry is not just a nice to have, it’s essential. Putting Diversity of Thought, Equality and Inclusion at the heart of what they do, driving a culture that promotes innovation and where people are empowered. There are a range of initiatives that the company has that helped it grow a workforce of over 16 different nationalities and professional backgrounds ranging from retail, finance and even sport!
SBC: Maintaining a unique career journey, how have you adopted personal learnings to help improve talent development, a key dynamic assessed by all industry stakeholders?
MR: The beauty of rugby is that it teaches you so many good qualities that are most certainly transferrable into the real world. Being a team player (removing the ego and working hard) as well as leading by example has helped enormously. I am also a big believer in goal setting to help achieve success.
I love working with people and forging meaningful relationships. There is always something to learn in the highly competitive environment that igaming is, building trust and respect is key! We had a saying in NZ rugby, No D***heads! Boiled down it simply meant no egos, and this certainly helps build that trust and respect and makes socialising with colleagues and customers a lot more fun.
SBC: Looking back at your career journey and its unique transitions, what has been the best personal advice you have ever received?
MR: There has been a couple actually, one is ‘control the controllables‘. The nature of sport and business is that sometimes the outcome doesn’t always go your way, but it is easier to look yourself in the mirror if you know you have done everything within your power to be at your best.
Which leads me onto my next bit of great advice, and this was given right after I was dropped from the All Blacks and that is, “it is just one man’s opinion”. I was fortunate enough that there was a change of coach and opinion a couple of years later and I was back in. This has certainly helped in the corporate environment as well. Resilience, perseverance and hard work are the keys to long term success.
SBC: Finally, betting’s rugby enthusiasts would love to know… How scary was Graham Henry as All Blacks Manager and what’s it like to tackle Jonah Lomu?
MR: Everything about Graham Henry was intimidating…A fantastic coach and so respected by all. He was a coach that when he spoke, everyone listened, and he brought the best out of the players.
Jonah was 6’4, 120kgs, thighs the size of tree trunks and ran the 100 in under 11 seconds…. It was an absolute privilege to play alongside him as he was a true global superstar and a fantastic ambassador for rugby. The one time I actually managed to tackle Jonah, I literally ran full steam into him and semi-knocked myself out. A YouTube clip that remains has to serve as my memory for that one!
Mark Robinson – Senior Partnerships Manager at Microgaming