Posted on July 29, 2016 by staff

How Leeds unicorn resisted Manchester move


Leeds has a ‘unicorn’ company attracting tech talent to the Yorkshire region.

Sky Betting and Gaming has expanded rapidly and was valued at £800m when a majority stake was sold to CVC Capital Partners in 2014.

Leeds boasts the fastest-growing average digital salary – a huge 29 per cent increase in just three years up to 2015 – and is “acting like a magnet” for tech talent, by one estimate.

Sky Betting and Gaming’s CTO Andy Burton said they resisted the temptation to move to Manchester.

“We’re now a privately owned gaming and betting company,” he told BusinessCloud at the International Festival for Business in Liverpool.

“We came out of Sky. Sky acquired the business about 15 years ago and we incubated it within Sky.

“It was sold to CVC Capital Partners for £800m about 18 months ago. We’re 80 per cent privately owned, while Sky own 20 per cent of us.

“After the sale to CVC we suddenly got very ambitious and wanted to do everything at the same time.

“We looked at it and I thought ‘are we going to hire 300 people in Leeds of the calibre of people we’re looking for in a short space of time?’

“My gut feeling was ‘no’ which is why we opened up a second office in Sheffield. Last summer I probably thought we were going to have to open an office in Manchester.

“I was pleasantly surprised when, in a 20-week period, we hired 150 tech people. As a result we’ve been able to make the decision to remain headquartered in Leeds.

“We had about 20 people from the EU. Another part of the answer is to set up own software academy.

“We’ve also been a lot more creative about our hiring. A big thing for me is moving the business from traditional HR operations to lean and agile people operations.

“We started thinking differently. We’ve brought in 300 people into the tech team in the last year. It’s not just about the money.

“We moved to Leeds from Harrogate and at that point it was really easy to hire people. Lots more companies are moving in and that’s pushed up salaries.

“We are having to pay a lot more than we used to in order to attract and keep the best people.

“Sky is still very important to us but we want to do our own thing. We were delighted to be able to go private and we’ve seen a huge amount of growth during that period.

“We’ve moved into Italy and Germany. We’re hiring like crazy.”

The company now employs 900 people in Leeds and 100 in Sheffield and will be present at the Digital Jobs Fair 2.0 to connect with more potential talent.

Burton said being a unicorn business had no impact on the way it was run.

“I’m not sure it makes any difference to what we do,” he said. “People didn’t realise what a big business this is and it sits here in Leeds.

“People didn’t realise the scale of what was happening in Leeds and a significant number of people are now employed in the sector.

“People have got a choice now. You don’t have to be in London or San Francisco.

“There are real options for people. People are starting to recognise that cities like Leeds are big digital hubs.”

However others have expressed fears that funding is harder to come by in “fragmented” Yorkshire than places like London.

Jon Corner, CEO of The Landing at MediaCityUK in Salford Quays, revealed at the same Northern Powerhouse event that his WIFE is responsible for his efforts to fix the skills gap.

And the chief executive of Liverpool City Council raised concerns that the Northern Powerhouse could suffer in the political post-Brexit landscape.