Beyond the Biz | Brian H. Hadfield

6 October 2008

About two years ago, Brian Hadfield, a former managing director at Unisys Ltd., was perfectly content as a non-executive director at CryptoLogic Ltd.

When he was asked to join the board, other members joked that he should apply for the chief executive officer's post. “I said to them, ‘I didn't know you were looking for someone,’ ” he said with a chuckle. “I was quite happy with a non-exec role.”

A year later, CryptoLogic did have an opening after the company announced Javaid Aziz, its former chief executive, would be retiring. By then, it became apparent there was a grain of truth behind the lighthearted suggestion, especially when CryptoLogic announced Mr. Hadfield would be taking on the new role.

“They liked my background as a technology executive, my knowledge of software development and my track record in building successful international businesses,” Mr. Hadfield told IGN back in March, just a week after he’d been on the job.

We caught up with Mr. Hadfield over the telephone two weeks ago and sat down with him in person at EiG -- Mr. Hadfield’s first I-gaming conference -- and found a man in good spirits, wearing a tie dotted with blue and yellow sheep, despite his company's recent financial hiccups.

What is the best part about working in the I-gaming industry?

    There are always two sides to that: One is you always have to enjoy working with the people you work with. On a day-to-day basis, the people in the organization -- the partners, the clients -- you've got to have an affinity for those. And I think the other thing in the gaming industry, despite the fact that it's part of the industry, I think it's actually a relatively immature industry. And by immature, I don't mean childish, I mean not mature.

    And I think that business modules will continue to evolve. You'll get a lot more collaboration; you'll get a lot more cooperation as time goes by. People will realize that exclusive arrangements are not the way that the world will be because other industries that have been around for a little longer know that you compete one day, but you cooperate the next.

    When I was at Unisys, I would be working with I.B.M. and Accenture in one room and be conspiring against them in the other, which as long as you know which side of the coin you're on, you're fine.

    What we'll see in the I-gaming industry is this sort of cooperation, collaboration, competition -- you'll get increased focus on the customer experience. I think there's a lot we can do with regard to the player and to the client. I think we'll start to look at how we can customize the experience, allow them to enjoy things much more to be much more interactive, etc. And those are the things that I find challenging and exciting because, for me, business is about the customer experience. If you can provide the right customer experience, then you'll have a business that will grow. If you provide a me-too environment, then you’re likely to struggle.

What's the strangest experience you've had working in the gambling industry?

"I firmly believe that I could have been an airline pilot, or I could have been a vet. We are just forced to choose early in our lives."

    Well, I don't know if I've been directly involved in it long enough to have a strange experience. (Laughs.) I'm sure I'll have lots.

    The one thing that did strike me, and I only mean this in nothing but in a positive way, is that one tends to think that it's Internet-based and, you know, the Internet is sort of fast-paced and that the business modules would be quite dynamic, quite varied and very, very flexible. I was quite surprised that I didn't necessarily discover them that way. But I don't know that that's sort of dramatic or anything, I mean, I was just a bit surprised by that.

What do you think you'd be doing now if the Internet had not been invented?

    I think that's hard to say because I think most of us are capable of doing most things. A lot of people that I know are not in anything they originally wanted to do to begin with.

    I think the key to success is transferable skills. It's how you do things, how you get things done rather than what you know. I can teach you skills -- I can't teach you attitude. So, if you have the right attitude and have a degree of -- if you're relatively adept -- then we can do almost anything. I firmly believe that I could have been an airline pilot, or I could have been a vet. We are just forced to choose early in our lives, and as it happened I wanted to teach, and I chose to teach.

    I think I could have been lots of things -- and I don't mean that arrogantly. (Laughs.) I just mean that lots of skills are transferable.

    When I interview people, I am more interested in how they do things than what they've done. Because if you look at most C.V.s and resumes, it basically says, you know, I did this. For the most part, we don't do anything on our own -- we do it as part of a team. So, my statement is always: "I believe everything that is on here, but can you tell me just how you do it? How do you motivate the team? How do you get people to follow you? How do you structure things?" Because the "how" is the transferable bit.

What's sort of the thing that keeps you going?

    I enjoy life. For me, it's a one-time ride. My goal is to enjoy every day; it's to try to make a positive mark. It's very much sort of the part of the absurdist existentialist view, which might not make total sense, but your job is about to improve things. For me, it's really just about enjoying life, trying to make it good for others, trying to have fun, trying to make things fun for others, make things enjoyable, not live in a Pollyanna world, just try to make it better. To me, that's what it's about.

Do you have a best day or a worst day as a C.E.O. -- or both?

" Life's so short. My worry is that I'll get to the end of it, and there'll be all these books I've never read. I have a great admiration for people who start with a blank sheet of paper and cover it with something. I would normally end up covering it up with scrawl."

    I think at the end of every day the key is, as you're cleaning your teeth at night, can you look in the mirror and say you really tried? And if you really tried, then I think that's a good thing. If you look in the mirror and you're a bit disappointed in yourself, then that's not so good.

    Now I don't think on a daily basis any of us ever think we've been perfect because, you know, there's bit better we can do. My view is that everything I do I've got to assume everyone knows what's going on. Would they be pleased? Would they at least understand why the decisions were made, how the decisions were made, and even if they were tough decisions, would they on balance think that it was done with sort of a humanitarian view?

    I don't think there are good days and bad days from that perspective -- I think that there are days where you have to say no matter whether it was good or bad, did I do everything I could. And the answer is that you never do everything you could, but you hope to get pretty damn close.

What would legalization of I-gaming in the United States mean to you?

    Well . . . (Laughs.) It's a question I get asked a lot.

    If the federal government says “oops we made a mistake,” then you've still got states that have an issue with it. If it's determined that it's going to be opened up, then the question is, what do you do about the people who never left and acted illegally? And if they have built up a fairly powerful market position, then how would people like us who left before the act was passed, how would we get back in? Because at that point of time the people who never left were given a pardon, then they've got market position, they've got a whole host of money -- it would be difficult to get into the market.

    If I'm honest, I don't spend a whole lot of time worrying about it because there is a lot to do in Europe and Asia. It's not binary -- yesterday we said “no” and today we are saying “yes.” I think there are some huge underlying issues at the federal and state level. What are you going to do about the people who acted illegally and how are you going to allow people who legitimately left back in and have a relatively level playing field?

    I think it would be a nice thing to happen, but I wouldn't necessarily want to be the person that was trying to solve the problem though. I've got other things. (Laughs).

What do you do when you're not working?

    I'm an avid reader -- a very avid reader. I enjoy photography. Those are the two things probably I do the most.

What book are you reading currently?

    “Netherland” by Joseph O'Neil, which is sort of a quite an interesting slant on a post-9/11 position. Before that I'd read “Twenty Thousand Roads,” which was about Gram Parsons, his life. If you want a really great book, the “The Cellist of Sarajevo” is a good one. I think Stephen Galloway wrote that one, which is one of the most powerful and moving books I've read of late.

    We have quite a famous book shop in London called Hatchards, and I go in there about once a month to buy about six or seven books. Then I go back the next month and buy six or seven more. Actually I don't -- there's a man in there that knows kind of what I like. So sometimes I go in, he hands me a bag, and I give him a check. It's all sort of handled that way.

    Life's so short. My worry is that I'll get to the end of it, and there'll be all these books I've never read. I have a great admiration for people who start with a blank sheet of paper and cover it with something. I would normally end up covering it up with scrawl. So, I do try to give people who write books a chance once I've bought it. I can't say I get through 100 percent of them, but I get through most of them.

Looking back, what did you see yourself doing as a child when you "grew up"?

    Well, what I did was what I wanted to do. From an early age I wanted to teach, and when I left university that's what I did.

    I guess, just being practical, teaching was my first job, the job that I really enjoyed. I'm a thrifty Scot, and even I was struggling to make a living as a teacher. So, I left teaching. It was probably the most difficult decision I ever made. In fact, the day I resigned, I was in tears because I really didn't want to do it. But I couldn't actually work out how I was going to live if I didn't do something different.

    I think my success in business from then on has been based on two things -- I proved by schoolwork that I could learn, and I proved in teaching that I could help others to do things. And I really applied that in every job I've had since. Despite the fact that I'm not a teacher today, I spend a lot of time coaching, counseling and mentoring -- generally trying to get people to look at things differently and solve problems.

    So, not a teacher but still a teacher.

Now when you were teaching, what subjects were your focus?

    Modern languages: French and German. Something that is highly useful in the I-gaming business.

Do you think you'll ever go back to teaching?

    I don't know. I mean, I have continued to do work with places like Cranfield and Henley, two management colleges in Britain. I don't know that I would go back -- not that I have anything against going back -- but I enjoy what I am doing. I'll just continue to do what I enjoy.

Can you tell me about your favorite vacation spot?

    As a photographer, I loved the game parts in South Africa because I do a fair amount of charity work for animals. I'm chairman of a charity that's involved in the conservation for Asian elephants. The African elephant is actually thriving, but the Asian elephant is in catastrophic decline.

    I enjoy South Africa, I quite like Barbados, and the lakes in northern Italy are quite nice, too. Those are probably the three favorites.

What do you like about the latter two?

    Barbados: I quite like the people and the climate. It's laid back. The lakes in Northern Italy are scenically beautiful. I can go there, and it's not rushed -- just totally relaxing.

Have you had any memorable experiences while traveling? Any cultural differences you've encountered along the way?

    I remember when I first went to India, I flew in from London to Mumbai. I was there on a 10-day business trip. And when I got there, I saw all these people sleeping in the streets, children begging at one or two o’clock in the morning. I thought, how on earth am I going to spend 10 days here? I just found it sort of quite distressing.

    Then it became a country that I am absolutely in love with. I love the people; I love the culture; I love the history. But I have to tell you: When I stepped of the plane, I saw that and thought I've got 10 days of this, I honestly thought I wouldn't be able to take it. But over time, it became a country that I really, really enjoy.

    You've got to understand a few things culturally, like time in India isn't the same as the West. So when they say next week, they don't generally mean next week -- they mean not now. (Laughs.) And they're not good at giving bad news. I was involved in business there, so they give you the bad news at the last possible minute. Everything's O.K., everything's O.K., everything's O.K., everything's O.K., everything's O.K. . . . no it's not. O.K., well when's it going to be fixed? Next week. Well, next week is not next week. It just means it will be after you've left and then they’ll worry about it. Culturally, it's quite different but a country that I love.

    I have not had any disasters traveling. I've had a few sort of interesting moments. I don't know how far you want to go with this. (Laughs.).

    I was in Dallas one time -- sound asleep -- and there was a knock on the door. There was this woman outside "Brian I know you're in there." So, I thought, What the hell is going on here? I don't know anyone in Dallas. I get out of bed and hear, "I know you're in there, and I know she's in there with you!" (Laughs.) Eventually I go put on a robe and open the door. And she said, "You're not Brian." And I said, "Actually I am, but I don't think I'm the Brian you're looking for." (Laughs.) Absolutely true story. And for the avoidance of doubt, there was no one in there other than me.

What's been your most extravagant purchase in the last 12 months?

    Most extravagant? I don't know if I've been extravagant over the last 12 months.

    I bought a new stereo system for my home. So I spent a little bit on that. One of the things I do like that I didn't mention earlier is music, but I guess the Gram Parsons thing might have been the clue. (Laughs.) Because why would you read a book about Gram Parsons if you didn't like music -- especially that's 600 pages long? So, the most expensive is I bought a Cyrus Stereo System.

    The other thing, which isn't particularly extravagant, is that I bought a Zeppelin for my iPod, Zeppelin being a BMW brand speaker that sort of looks like a zeppelin.

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Jeanette Kozlowski is a staff writer for IGamingNews and manager of Clarion Gaming's Gaming Industry Media portal. She lives in Kirkwood, Mo.