Steven Holmes, general counsel at Inspired Gaming Group, has seen the company through tough times into a new era of expansion, says Caroline Butcher
Steven Holmes is the first to admit that his career has followed a unique trajectory. The general counsel and company secretary at gaming technology company Inspired Gaming Group was already 11 years into a contract-negotiating career when he qualified as a lawyer. He has never worked in private practice.
Until recently Holmes was more accustomed to working with businesses in a downward spiral than prosperous ones enjoying growth.
“I’ve basically done my career back to front,” he concedes.
Holmes kicked off his career 16 years ago negotiating technology contracts for British Gas and the University of Manchester before moving to Siemens. Then, from 2000 to 2007, he negotiated contracts for doomed telecommunications giant Nortel (which filed for bankruptcy in 2009). It was during this period, in 2006, that he qualified as a lawyer.
“For a long time I didn’t think I’d qualify,” he says. “I did my LPC while working full-time and I’ve never been in private practice, but I have more commercial and legal training than most private practice lawyers.”
Holmes joined Inspired in 2007 as one of eight in-house lawyers, focusing on the business’s international expansion as it rolled out its Open Server Based Gaming technology.
But trouble was lurking just around the corner.
“I joined Inspired as a lawyer responsible for international markets in early 2007, when the business was on the crest of a wave,” he recalls. “Then, in December 2007, we had a failed acquisition by an Icelandic company that coincided with the failure of the Icelandic economy. The next two years were fairly tough, but we made the right choices.”
The choices proved pretty ruthless. They involved slashing the workforce from 2,500 to 1,000 and disposing of the foundering Leisure Link division that supplied fruit machines to UK pubs. The belt-tightening also involved cutting Inspired’s in-house legal team from eight lawyers to just Holmes in 2009.
The company was delisted and acquired by European private equity company Vitruvian Partners in 2010, and Holmes has since seen the business turn a corner and move into profitable territory.
“It’s challenging after two years of being the only lawyer and handling all the work, but now we’re at the beginning of exciting times and the start of a growth curve,” he says.
Since the takeover Inspired has scored a major new contract supplying video lottery terminals to the newly deregulated Italian market, which it is pursuing as a joint venture with Germany’s Gauselmann Group.
The company is also now supplying gaming machines and software to 10 countries across Europe, the US, South America and South East Asia, and Holmes is hopeful of further opportunities as more countries deregulate their gaming industries to raise taxes.
“There’s a lot of deregulation going on in the international market and we’re right at the forefront of this gaming technology,” he states.
Holmes says regulatory matters take up a lot of his time, as well as coordinating legal advisers in other parts of the world as the company continues its expansion in jurisdictions such as Mexico and Colombia.
“We’re in a heavily regulated industry and my role is to ensure the business is kept as clean as possible,” he explains. “But the role can be an absolute mishmash – property work, negotiating customer agreements, corporate, employment and tax. We also do patenting work and a fair amount of trademark work. Basically, any legal question that comes into the business ends up at my door.”
Holmes has also recently boosted his department to four to help with an increase in commercial work as the business pushes into new markets.
While there is no formal legal panel in place, Holmes instructs a selection of external firms, including Birmingham-based Browne Jacobson, Dickson Minto, DLA Piper for Italian law matters and Nabarro for corporate work.
“It’s more efficient for us to use smaller regional firms than big City firms,” he adds.
With Vitruvian Partners’ recent acquisition of online gaming company OpenBet, Holmes says that “convergence” with its new sister company will be Inspired’s buzzword of the future.
“Online is a market we’re really focusing on, and OpenBet is one of the world’s biggest providers of online gaming systems,” he stresses.
“The whole gaming industry’s got massive potential – land-based and online – and we want to be at the heart of providing technology to new countries.”
Name: Steven Holmes
Company: Inspired Gaming Group
Position: General counsel and company secretary
Industry: Leisure (gaming, betting and casino technology)
Reporting to: Chief operating officer and chief financial officer Dave Wilson
Number of employees:950
Annual legal spend:£500,000