Betfair’s Ed Wray and why he ‘sacked’ himself

Betfair co-founder Ed Wray gave himself the sack, he tells us why

Ed Wray has done the thing that most CEOs only do to other people but something which is often the hallmark of a great entrepreneur.

He has given himself the sack and handed his job over to someone else. OK so he is still in the business and in charge of rolling out the business internationally but nonetheless, 12 months ago he decided it was time to go and now he has gone.

“I knew there were things I didn’t like doing or I was not doing well, and as soon as that started nagging at the back of my mind, I knew the job had got too big and it needed to be subdivided,” says Wray.

The job got too big because the business which he started along with former professional gambler Andrew Black has done so darned well. Three years after start-up it is the UK’s number one online betting service, it has won numerous business awards, and now employs 260 people.

Wray made the decision to hand over to a new CEO at the end of 2002. This is when the board stepped in to manage the appointment. And it wasn’t a case of finding another version of the same model. All the senior management were involved in the succession, and had a specific set of requirements for the new incumbent.

“It was important to bring someone in with a lot of experience, not someone who would only be able to do a 25% better job than me. We needed someone with the ability to manage rapid growth and the very real growing pains. People management skills were also very important – you can’t run a business of 260 people in the same flat way as 20 of you mucking in,” says Wray.

His new boss is Stephen Hill, former CEO of the Financial Times Group who joined in the summer allowing Wray to move aside and concentrate on what he says he does best: build up businesses.

“I’m still very much involved, but my strengths are entrepreneurial, not in managing large numbers of people and running a big organisation,” says Wray. “We knew we wanted to be the biggest gambling business in the world, but the way it has grown has outstripped our expectations. Andrew and I didn’t have a view that in X years we wanted to be X size and then we would look to bring other people in. Maybe serial entrepreneurs do, but this was my first time.”

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Wray says the handover has been a liberating experience.”To be honest, the first time we discussed it I wondered if I would be able to do it, but it was fabulous. It helps that it wasn’t just me who started the business, It really has been incredible, I have learnt an amazing amount from Stephen in the last month.”

So what’s his advice for entrepreneurs who are considering whether this might be the right time for them to find someone new to run their company?

 “The most important thing is not to ignore the little warning signs – the things that keep being pushed to the bottom of the pile. Imagine how good you would feel if all those things were being dealt with efficiently and well.”

But as Wray notes, the ease with which you manage to let go depends on your motivation. “Andrew and I will always be the founders of this business, and our motivation is doing what’s best for the company. It’s important to think of it as a step up, not a step down. When you set your own business up, you promise yourself you will only have to do the things that you enjoy doing. For some people, being successful might be taking the business right through to the end, but that’s just not for me.”

And Wray has a final word of warning for entrepreneurs with itchy feet: “When you have made your mind up, give yourself time to do it properly. If a handover is handled badly or rushed, far from taking the business to the next level, it could spell disaster”.


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