Taking the high road
Andrew Ludlow, Managing Director of NRM, reflects on his 35 years in the industry and a career that’s featured far more highs than lows
Can you provide a resume of your first 35-years in the business?
I started in the industry working for Amusement Design Limited which was run by a fabulous guy called Stan Collier. The company was part owned by Maygay Machines and Peter Howell (Maygay Chairman) visited regularly and he suggested that I had an interview with the sales director at the time Alan Towell. After several successful years I left Maygay to set up Modern Games with Tony Smith. Very unfortunately my father’s business, Panelwire Controls, fell on hard times during the late 80’s/early 90’s downturn and in doing so took Modern Games with it. It was a very difficult time but an incredible learning experience. During Modern Games I developed a close relationship with Kieron Boost from Petron Amusements. Kieron, his business partner Lindsay Warren and myself created a new business called Global Games where I became MD. From very humble beginnings focusing on rebuild club machines we moved into rebuild AWP creating some of the industry’s biggest selling and some would say slightly risqué titles. Building on this success we grew both our development and sales teams and I am really proud to say a number of those people are still enjoying great success in a number of senior industry positions. Whilst the rebuild sector was good to us along with some good export markets we wanted to break into the supply of new analogue AWP. Our first release and approval was a machine called Hi-Spirits and from there we grew the business to be one of the largest suppliers to the market. In 2002 Roy Howell, myself and Steve Murray came together to create Games Media, effectively buying out Global Games and starting the journey to digitising the AWP market. In 2006 Games Media was acquired by Global Draw/Scientific Games. Five years later, Global Draw/Scientific Games acquired Barcrest and I became MD of the Pub, Arcade and Bingo Division. After a challenging but enjoyable six years I left and invested in NRM Limited becoming a shareholder and Managing Director working closely with my business partner and Chairman Paul Whitbread. The last six years have been about developing our technology and software stacks, diversifying the business into complimentary market sectors, developing the fabulous teams within the business and also having a bit of fun along the way!
Dealing in specifics what are the most significant changes you’ve witnessed over that period of time?
The industry has certainly seen some ‘shakeout’ with larger companies acquiring smaller competitors, I think it’s fair to say that some of this has been driven by too much supply leading to market saturation and less than favourable commercial terms being leveraged due to this position, certainly in supply of machines to retail gaming venues. The rise of technology, social, mobile, on-line, cloud and hardware related has had a massive impact on the UK Gaming sector and how consumers engage with the products and services we offer. The move from analogue to digital was inevitable. What has been interesting has been the time taken to reach that point. The next challenge will be using technology, communications and best practise to remove unnecessary costs from an archaic analogue operating model. The UK Gaming industry produces around £14.5bn of Gross Gaming Yield (GGY), of which remote accounts for over 37%. Interestingly the GGY from machines in bingo remains steady (Mainstage and MCB showing a combined decline), AGC’s showing a slight increase and betting (non-machines) showing a decline, what continues to impress is the resilience of gaming retail venues. I do believe that retail has a significant and positive role to play in delivering a great out of home gaming experience.
What have been the highlights and the inevitable low points in your career to date?
I am very fortunate to be able say that the highs far outweigh the lows but to get the lows out of the way first, losing Modern Games at any early career age was a blow but also a stark learning experience. Despite having a clear vision, not being able to see through the transition from analogue to digital in the pub sector was a disappointment. In terms of the highs, turning Modern Games into an unbelievable business called Global Games; working within Bacta as Divisional Chairman and helping drive industry standards, assisting with our political lobbying over the triennial and being recognised for these efforts with a Bacta award in 2002 was also a highlight for me. Creating Games Media and driving the digital agenda, creating a vision and then selling that platform and vision to Scientific Games, has to be there as a career highlight. Overall, I have been truly blessed to have had the opportunity to be part of a number of businesses alongside some very capable and generous people, in the process creating some absolutely incredible memories.
Who have been the biggest influences on your career?
My father gave me the opportunity to launch my career in the industry for which I will always be grateful. Kieron Boost, in his own right a successful operator, technologist, designer and programmer had the belief to create Global Games and we achieved a lot of things during our time together. Kieron is still a close personal friend. Then there’s Roy Howell – where do I start and what can I say that hasn’t already been said? Again a very successful industry figure and somebody that believed in me and supported me whilst at Maygay and more laterally at Games Media. Not always an easy path with Roy as those that knew him would testify, but his vision helped create Games Media with Steve and myself. Paul Whitbread, again a friend and successful businessman in his own right, somebody who believed that working together we could deal with the challenging backdrop that NRM was facing and create a more diverse business delivering some great products to market. His considered and sometimes ‘devil’s advocate’ approach has been invaluable. On a more personal note, as a number of people will know Paul has suffered some health issues, his tenacity and aplomb at dealing with these has certainly influenced a number of areas of both my working and personal life in a very positive way. James Rawson, a non-industry entrepreneur. I met James a decade ago and we became both friends and business acquaintances. I joined his family business as a non-exec some six years ago having more recently sold the business to a large American corporation and private investors. James has an incredibly transparent approach to business, some very clear principles on customer care and a generous approach to those around him, again these have had a positive influence on my own career.
What are your goals for 2019?
In 2019 we have a number of opportunities that were landed late in 2018, we need to deliver these well and exceed our customers’ expectations. Jigsaw, our digital entertainment platform, remains a key priority and focus for the business. Plans are in place to further develop what is already a proven platform, with a product roadmap that will see the introduction of a new user interface, more game content, local area and wide area linked/interactive content and mobile applications that bring venues and customers closer together. Over the last five years we have successfully diversified the business and this will continue in 2019. This will be achieved through a combination of growing and building on existing platforms and customers whilst exploring some new technology solutions for retail gaming locations. There is a need for retail venues to properly understand their customers, have ways of appropriately engaging with them, giving them personalised experiences that also rewards loyalty. We have some exciting ideas and a number of close customer relationships that should see these ideas manifest themselves during 2019. Our continued support for the CHIPS charity is very important to us and we have a goal in 2019 of raising enough to purchase another wheelchair: watch this space but rumour has it that a team led by Paul will be paddle boarding down the River Dart later this year… I can’t wait!!
Is the glass half full or half empty as NRM looks ahead?
Very much glass half full. We have a fabulous team that have and continue to deliver some amazing products to the industry. I think it’s fair to say that we punch above our weight, we have a ‘whatever it takes’ mentality and a can do culture which is infectious to say the least. Having more recently gone through a number of changes and been successful in a number of business tender wins, we have started 2019 in a really positive way. We have a great team of very passionate and talented individuals at NRM and Connected, which makes it an exciting and fun place to be, this coupled with some really great customers that continue to both support and challenge us means 2019 should be another formative year in the development and transition of our business.