Games developer Yggdrasil has named James Curwen as its incoming CEO.
The transition in leadership comes with current CEO Bjorn Krantz set to step down from his role.
The appointment will take effect from 1 October 2023, with Krantz actively facilitating a smooth handover until his departure at the end of September.
Curwen (pictured), who currently holds the position of chief online officer at Greek operator OPAP, brings a wealth of experience and expertise to his new role as Yggdrasil CEO.
With a robust background spanning 30 years in both online and land-based gambling, Curwen has held executive positions at companies including William Hill, Superbet, Ladbrokes, and The Ritz Casino.
As Krantz transitions out of his role, he expressed confidence in Curwen’s ability to lead Yggdrasil into the next phase of development.
Krantz noted: “Since day one, my work with Yggdrasil has been focused on transformation, and as the company now enters the next phase of its global developments, it’s time for me to hand over the reins.
“James Curwen is an industry veteran; he will bring invaluable experience and leadership to the company as it enters the next phase of driving sustainable, profitable growth. It’s his time to lead.”
Yggdrasil chairman Itai Frieberger shared the board’s excitement about the appointment, adding: “We believe James possesses the skills and experience to elevate the business to new heights.”
Frieberger also extended gratitude to Krantz for his dedicated service over the past four years at Yggdrasil.
Krantz joined Yggdrasil in 2009, initially as head of publishing, before progressing to chief of global market operations. He was subsequently appointed CEO in April 2022.
Yggdrasil was founded in 2013 and is headquartered in Sweden. The company also has offices in Malta, Poland and Gibraltar.
It’s New Year, New Mann for Swintt’s CEO as he has recently adopted intermittent fasting, which means skipping breakfast. However, when David Mann met Sonja Lindenberg for the latest edition of Breakfast with NEXT, he made an exception and decided to indulge in a cappuccino and breakfast roll.
The glory days
Ten years ago, business in Aberdeen, Scotland, was booming thanks to its energy sector.
Oil and gas had transformed the city into one of the world’s leading centres of energy expertise, earning it the moniker “Europe’s oil capital”.
Around 1,000 businesses were operating within the energy sector, employing around 40,000 people.
A few minutes’ walk from the cluster of quays, wharfs and huge fuel storage cylinders, William Hill operated a small betting shop, where David Mann took up a job while studying at Aberdeen’s Robert Gordon University.
Mann says the shop was frequented mostly by port and oil industry workers, some of whom “were pretty rough”.
Since August 2022, Mann has led Malta-based gaming software supplier Swintt.
But looking back at his time as a betting shop deputy manager, he says: “It was so interesting to interact with the punters face-to-face, and you can imagine the kind of characters that came through the door, particularly given the shop’s location in the port.”
Although it provided a good entry point into the gambling industry, Mann initially had other plans.
He studied journalism but said he soon realised that “it was a job with extremely long hours and little pay”. He added: “Moreover, I felt to break into journalism you really needed some sort of connections, which I didn’t have.”
A heated economy
At the same time, the cost of living in Aberdeen was spiralling because of the energy boom.
In 2013, house prices were the same as in Edinburgh, a market more traditionally associated with affluent buyers.
An influx of well-paid oil workers also pushed up rents, and Aberdeen was one of the most expensive cities in the UK.
Despite being awash with oil money, Aberdeen had one of the most unequal wage structures, making it difficult for young people and career starters to earn enough to cover their expenses.
As a result, Mann decided to move abroad.
One of his friends had just taken on a job in Malta, and after visiting for a week, Mann packed his bags at the beginning of 2014 and also relocated to Malta.
He initially joined Betway Group as a bet settlement executive, but was shortly after offered a role as content manager for gaming software supplier Spigo, which he thought was much more in line with his writing background.
“Although I had some industry experience, this was obviously more on the betting side, and I had to learn everything about casino games,” he says.
However, after just 10 months in the role, he was appointed head of sales, which marked the start of Mann’s business development career.
In 2017, he joined game and solution provider Wazdan as a sales and business development manager before moving to Swintt in May 2019 as business development director.
Building the business
When he arrived at Swintt, however, it was firstly about building the business from the start, which included “building tables and chairs”, Mann recounts, remembering the start-up days.
Today, the 44-person company, which is the B2B arm of the Glitnor Group, is well established. And Mann, who before being promoted to CEO held the position of CCO, knows the business inside out.
“The future of game providers lies in regulated markets,” Mann states, highlighting that Swintt has licences in Malta, the UK, Sweden, the Netherlands, Germany, Latvia and Estonia.
With a clear vision, Mann is hoping to expand the business to seven more regulated markets in 2023, including Ontario, Romania, New Jersey, Italy, Switzerland, Lithuania, Bulgaria and Greece.
However, he also acknowledges that the industry is becoming increasingly competitive, with new game studios popping up around the world on an almost weekly basis.
“I do believe that some of the smaller companies struggle,” he says, adding that in addition to having their own team of developers, Swintt frequently partners up with studios who have come up with interesting titles but have “not yet established the distribution”.
The issue, according to Mann, is that “you really have to get into the regulated markets, but certifications are costly and time-consuming”.
During the meeting, he says it feels as though many in iGaming “have just discovered the importance of profitability”.
Despite his ambitious growth plans, he remains firmly focused on building a sustainable business and is keen to reiterate that.
“We always have an eye on cost and don’t want to over-hire,” he says.
Mann is a strong advocate for promoting from within, and points to himself as an example of the benefits of this approach.
Boom and bust
In Aberdeen, the oil and gas downturn has hit businesses hard, taking many in the city by surprise.
Between mid-2014 and early 2016, the global economy faced one of the largest oil price declines in modern history.
The price of oil fell from $120 a barrel to around a quarter of that in less than two years.
Thousands of workers lost their jobs as oil firms scaled back their operations.
The tumbling value of oil – most of which is located in expensive-to-reach undersea fields – made exploration and drilling unprofitable.
This experience has threatened the future prosperity of the city and forced Aberdeen to rethink its economic model, which today also features renewables as a prominent sector.
While the oil sector has historically been characterised by periods of prosperity and decline, there are valuable lessons to be learned from this pattern.
Mann asserts that the iGaming industry has seen significant growth in recent years, but warns there may be difficult times ahead.
He suggests the industry should be more realistic in terms of its expectations.
When discussing the Glitnor Group’s plans, Mann says that the current economic climate is not so favourable for going public as investment has decreased.
However, he says there is the expectation that later this year the markets will bounce back and this should see both investment and public listings return within the sector.
He remains optimistic, and believes that, similar to the cyclical nature of the oil industry, market conditions will improve in the future, creating new and exciting opportunities for the iGaming industry in the process.