A legacy as ‘one of the good guys’ - OpenBet’s Jordan Levin reflects on leadership

A legacy as ‘one of the good guys’ – OpenBet’s Jordan Levin reflects on leadership

M&A and structural changes are a huge part of the betting business and are developments with which Jordan Levin, CEO of OpenBet, has had extensive first-hand experience.

Having been ‘found’ by the betting and gaming sector in 2006 after a career in the higher echelons of finance, Levin has seen OpenBet – which he took the helm of as CEO in 2018 when it was part of the SG Digital division of Scientific Games – undergo some significant changes.

The centrality of company culture

Notable developments in OpenBet’s history include the completion of its sale to Endeavor by Scientific Games in 2022, and the subsequent expansion of its operations and reach. From Levin’s position of leadership, there is an essential factor in the creation of a new successful business.

“I could sit here and give you all kinds of textbook answers around value, strategic vectors, synergies, etc., but the most overlooked aspect is culture,” he explains.

“At the end of the day, regardless of what a spreadsheet or presentation says, if you don’t have compatibility and a shared understanding of what you want your business culture to be, then there is a significant degree of difficulty moving forward.”

Levin’s firm has been both the subject of M&A during its sale to Endeavor but also a purchaser itself. He emphasises how the takeover of Neccton proves that OpenBet “have put our money where our mouth is” and intends to be part of creating long-term industry sustainability.

“OpenBet has been at the forefront of safe, engaging entertainment experiences which are built on solid technology since our inception and with Neccton, we are reasserting our commitment to player protection.”

As a “market leader in responsible gaming and AML/fraud detection tools”, Neccton will provide a major boost to OpenBet’s capabilities as it continues “pushing responsible regulatory solutions for generations to come,” Levin elaborates.

OpenBet is already a market leader itself, however. Over a 25+ year history, the company has secured its position as a leading provider of sportsbook services, processing huge bet numbers from prominent events such as the Grand National, Cheltenham Festival and the FIFA World Cup.

But how did Levin get to this position of leadership at the firm? As mentioned above, Levin reflects that “the gambling industry found me, just as I was looking to break out of corporate finance to get a couple of years of company and industry experience”.

Levin’s career in business began 25 years ago as an analyst with multinational financial services giant Wells Fargo in 1998. His work as an Analyst continued with Vine Street in 1999, followed by a tenure at investment bank Dresner Partners as Senior Associate in 2000 and sports apparel producer Knights Apparel in 2004 as Manager Financial Planning & Analysis.

His career in ‘high finance’ ended and the onset of his tenure in gaming and betting began in July 2006, as VP Business Development at WMS Gaming. Although initially planning to return to the realm of high finance, Levin’s career in betting continues 17 years later.

“These industries provided me with solid foundational training in areas such as quality and craftsmanship, attention to detail, raising the bar and overall, competitive business strategy and positioning. 

“However, the only way to understand and develop vocational skills such as true team building, collaboration and organisational health is on the job, by watching and learning from individuals that I admired throughout my career and within the industry.”

OpenBet’s ‘golden opportunity’ for Endeavor

At WMS, Levin’s primary remit was to lead a team responsible for strategic planning and transaction execution to achieve the group’s objectives, such as keeping it ‘at the forefront’ of licensure and acquisition of ‘world-class technological enablers’.

Another role transition occurred in 2012 when he took on the role of Managing Director & COO of Williams Interactive, overseeing the strategy and day-to-day operations of WMS Industries’ digital products and services arm.

Witnessing further M&A in 2014, WMS was purchased by Scientific Games, setting Levin on the path towards becoming CEO of OpenBet. Having filled various senior positions at Scientific Games, he became Group CEO of SG Digital in 2018 and then took on his current role in 2022 when OpenBet was transferred to Endeavor.

Reflecting on his storied career in betting, Levin remarks: “If I had to pick two defining moments it would be firstly, having the opportunity to be part of the Williams Interactive leadership team, the forward-facing digital internal start-up of my then-parent company WMS Gaming. 

“Secondly, leading the divestiture and reformation of the OpenBet brand into the Endeavor Group structure. Growing our top and bottom lines and market position, while also dealing with significant cultural and contextual transition was a rewarding achievement.”

Delving further into what the Endeavor takeover meant for OpenBet, Levin explains how the acquisition is representative of the continuing convergence between sports betting and the wider world of media, entertainment and sports.

Endeavor recognised OpenBet’s potential in this area, he lays out. Given Endeavor’s already extensive activity in this area via its ownership of IMG Arena, acquiring OpenBet “was a golden opportunity to grow the footprint”.

Meanwhile, these years of development and restructuring have had nothing but a positive impact on OpenBet, in its CEO’s view. With regards to leadership, a ‘hugely adaptable team’ has been cultivated to deal with evolution and context-switching.

Levin emphasises: “They are able to adapt not only to industry change but to significant contextual transformation. If anyone ever wants a comms/change management playbook, we have it!”

No shortcuts for sustainable industry

From its current standpoint, OpenBet has adopted a dual focus on new and existing customers and markets, although Levin does acknowledge that ‘clearly our solution is not for everyone” and that the firm does ‘recognise who we are”.

Central to this has been not only the cultivation of strong leadership but also the aforementioned M&A activity which has combined responsible gaming, sportsbook trading and content. 

Under the leadership of Levin and his team, these developments have enabled OpenBet to “serve more markets and customers than ever” and reach “most corners of the world where regulated and safe betting and gaming are permitted”.

Again referencing the acquisition of Neccton, Levin comments on how safer gambling has taken on increased importance as various territories and stakeholders take on a newly responsible attitude towards the discipline.

It is not just OpenBet which has growth and opportunity on its horizon in the view of the company’s CEO, as he projects that “the industry has blue skies ahead of it”.

“Having been in this industry for a long time, it sometimes amazes me when I see people try to take shortcuts or only paying lip service to the creation of a truly sustainable industry.

“As previously noted, with the acquisition of Neccton, we look forward to delivering ethical and fiscal solutions for our rapidly expanding industry. I am also excited even more broadly about the modular, one-stop-solutions house that OpenBet has evolved into.

“We are able to serve customers with turnkey solutions or with modular components of our solutions stack – all while focusing on responsible end-user engagement and entertainment.”

With 17 years of industry leadership under his belt, Levin has had plenty of time to take onboard new lessons and broaden his skillsets, as well as act as a mentor for the next generation of leaders.

It is hardly uncommon for different industries to learn from each other, and Levin notes that his early career in finance has helped shape his current standing in betting – but adapting his skillsets has been vital. 

“In the beginning, I leaned hard, probably too hard, on the foundational skillsets learned in my early career, such as finance, assertive decision-making and the need to sometimes be unemotional around those decisions. 

“Those skillsets are undeniably important and continue to serve me well. That being said, overly relying on those traits can be dangerous. It became increasingly important, as part of my professional growth, to develop other key attributes like passion, delegation of authority and empowerment, empathy, and approachability, to help further hone my executive skillset. 

“The most important aspect above anything is self-awareness. It is critical to look in the mirror, take feedback, reflect, and improve as part of one’s career journey.”

“Less alligator, more elephant”

On the latter point of mentorship, Levin also has some important pieces of advice for the new entrants to the sector. After all, words of experience could not come from a better source, as Levin was himself a newcomer to the sector back in 2006.

For those making their debuts in betting – a sector which is “unique and unlike others” in finance veteran Levin’s eyes – an important lesson to take on board is to be “less alligator, more elephant”.

“The idiosyncrasies can range from complicated to strange, and it takes a bit of time to find one’s footing. To that end, ensure you find a mentor who can help. Beyond that, I would lean on the basics – learning, asserting at the right times/in the right way, and creating your own luck. To that point, I’ll offer one of my favourite phrases – “Luck does not happen by accident; it sits at the intersection of hard work and preparation.”

Life is not all about work, however, and as a CEO this is something Levin was keen to stress the importance of. He jokingly admits that “while many on my team may think I’m a bit of a workaholic, I do strive to achieve a good work-life balance”.

“I believe that having other interests and pursuits outside of work makes one perform that much better in work and that includes focusing on family. 

“I’ve been happily married for 21 years, and we have three teenage boys. I also enjoy reading a diverse mix of books, music (listening and playing), and exercise. I believe deeply in giving back and try to find as much time as possible to participate in and contribute to worthy causes.”

After nearly two-decades in betting and gaming and leading a prominent supplier through significant developments in its operating history, Levin will undoubtedly leave a long-lasting legacy on the sector.

For the CEO and SBC Hall of Famer, he has one key hope for what impact the lessons he transferred from his initial career in finance to his prominent role in betting – lessons he is keen to pass on to new betting business people – will be.

“I hope my legacy is that I am considered one of the good guys – a competitive, but unbendingly fair and just, leader. Building upon that, I want to be able to look back and see that those who I’ve had the opportunity and honour to lead or mentor become strong leaders and mentors themselves.”

As Levin prepares for his induction into the SBC Hall of Fame at the SBC Leaders Summit Barcelona later this month, he remarks that while achieving accolades “has never been my ambition”, he sees the recognition of what OpenBet has accomplished and “the power of being part of a wider winning team, rowing in the same direction”.

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