Focus on innovation
INSIGHTFUL INTERVIEW with Paula Tibre, General Manager of Betfair Romania Development
PART 1: PROBABLY THE KEY FOCUS SHOULD BE ON INNOVATING
… as that’s how we stay in line with what’s going on in the world.
As General Manager of the Cluj Office and member of the Flutter technology leadership team, Paula Tibre is an accomplished professional, a person with strong values, strategic thinking and proven leadership skills. These have helped Betfair Romania Development grow to more than 900 employees, which makes it the biggest technology center in the Flutter Group, recognized for its excellence in various areas.
We wanted to know directly from her what were the drivers of this success and the role that innovation plays in the strong position of the company in the betting and gaming industry.
Let the journey begin…
Question: How did Betfair Romania Development evolve over the last 12 years?
When I joined there were 20 people in the company. Some of them are still here and that’s an awesome achievement, since they are also leaders of the organization, which couldn’t make me prouder for having them my colleagues.
We are very different in some ways from each other, but in essence we are exactly the same. I know that seems a paradox but where we are the same is in believing that our company is a place for people to thrive, to feel respected, where they can express their opinions, be themselves and evolve. This is at least what I found here. And I still do every single day, I still live that exact same experience from very early on. That’s why 12 years later I’m still here. So, for me things haven’t changed much, although I’ve changed 13 roles in these 12 years.
In some other ways, we are very different from how we were a while ago: compared to 20 people now we are over 900. That’s a significant growth, and with growth we started to consider structure, the way we work, the way we contribute to the business. This brought us 12 years later to have the most significant contribution to the group. We work for multiple divisions: we work for Paddypower Betfair, our European Division, and we’ve recently started to work for Sportsbet – our Australian division – and in the future, we might work for other divisions as well.
If at the beginning we were a development centre now we are much more than that. We have operational teams which are significant in terms of the work they carry every single day, but also in terms of headcount. We have corporate functions and we support many other commercial departments.
All in all, everything has evolved and has done so in a way that drove Betfair Romania Development to have a much more coherent contribution to the business not only through the technology experience we initially had, but also through many other complementary skills that emerge when teams come together for a common goal. Then they achieve greater things – and that’s how Betfair Romania Development got where it is today.
Question: To support this growth do you think there has to be a balance between the freedom/innovation and fixed principles?
It’s a balance which is very important, but hard to achieve.
I think our office exists for a reason and we shouldn’t forget that: we exist to contribute to the business. So, it’s very clear we need to have results and those results need to be the right ones. Also, our contribution must be the right one at every single point in time. But the way we achieve those outcomes has been very different over the years. The way we were working and the way we were thinking 12 years ago is very different to 10 or 7 years ago.
The industry where we operate is extremely fast-paced. I don’t think we could have kept up if we wouldn’t have reinvented ourselves. And interestingly, I think that’s what defines me as an individual as well – reinvention on an ongoing basis. This is exactly what I have seen in Betfair Romania Development. We have taken on new projects, we have a completely new mindset, we have worked through an evolving culture, we took on more work, more responsibility, and we’ve challenged ourselves to deliver everything faster. All this dynamic has forced us in some situations to reinvent ourselves and I think it has been probably the greatest achievement that we managed to do so.
I also believe Romanians have a culture of wanting to prove themselves and to get to results. And I can say that we achieved that reinvention through an existing base – our Romanian culture – that has served us well.
Question: You mentioned the need to reinvent yourself at each new step, how did you approach that so that the changes were the right ones for the business?
I think there are two steps to it: one is to always be very much aware of where we are, to be realistic and totally honest with ourselves, but at the same time have a bold vision of where we want to be. Without these two things, we cannot achieve that transformation.
We take responsibility for where we are. While we always want to do our best, I believe that we must take responsibility for where things are going right and for where things can be improved. This attitude made and kept people honest, and at the same time – and I see that every single day when I talk to people – always wanting to do more. I think the importance of a leadership team is to define that vision properly.
We have had strong leadership over the years, that has defined a vision with regards to where we wanted to be. People have trusted us and they’ve come along that journey. We reinvented many times the way we were doing things and the way we were delivering projects. Immediately after the merger we took on new products that we supported and we continued to develop through the roadmaps, products that we were not familiar with before. Although it was really hard, people have joined us along the way. This is in my opinion a great proof of the responsibility that people take here and at the same time a proof that they want to do more and that they can achieve more. That’s what we’ve seen over the years. It’s difficult also because you’re on a constant movement and it takes a certain type of mindset, that growth mindset, to truly grow every day.
In conclusion, to answer your question, we have grown through the way our people have grown, and it’s probably the biggest satisfaction one can have.
Question: And how do you think this growth mindset fuels innovation?
I think innovation is an outcome of culture and a mindset that people have. For example, when we look at our culture it says very clearly that we are openly curious. Curiosity in people drives innovation. You cannot say “Oh, from now on, we are innovative” … it does not really work like that.
When we affirm that we are openly curious we look at everything we do through different viewpoints. We put a lot of focus on diversity and on people having different opinions and seeking out new perspectives before we get to a decision. This in itself drives a better outcome. You might say well, that’s not innovation, but it actually is, because it ensures you get the most of what people have to give – and this is evolution.
Similarly, we have the courage to think differently – and that’s not an easy task, especially at the same time as delivering the outcomes that we want for our business. It’s really challenging ourselves to be
ourselves, to express the opinions that we have, to accept ourselves for who we are and our colleagues for who they are. In my view that’s pretty big as well.
We must also take time to reflect, but in a very structured environment.
I don’t think innovation exists for the sake of innovation. Innovation should exist for the sake of an outcome, to get us where we want to be.
You need a very clear vision with regards to your products. In PaddyPower Betfair we are now working in an operating model which does that and is focused on outcomes and key-results. This empowers everyone in the team to come with innovation and innovative ways to reach those outcomes. It creates that structured thinking and experimentation. That’s how innovation thrives when you have a very clear goal with regards to where you want to be, but at the same time you are flexible on the way to get there. I think that creates a greater focus and it accelerates the experimentation around the hypotheses that we want to test.
I see innovation as everybody’s responsibility. It starts from a growth mindset and is supported by culture, diversity of opinions and structured experimentation.
Question: You mentioned that the world is changing, that you must adapt fast, how do you create a vision that captures that and promotes innovation?
A vision doesn’t mean that you’re looking to be right from the start. I think it is really important to build a vision based on a few supporting information – knowing where you are, what are your strengths and your weaknesses – and ensure that vision addresses those; that’s the first thing. Secondly, it’s to look externally into other industries, into what other operators are doing, into the big trends that shape the world and to take those into account and to start to think differently. It means ensuring that you ask the right questions: could this be us in a couple of years? where could we be in a couple of years if we started with a blank sheet of paper? what differentiates us from the rest?
We need to make sure we capture these answers into the vision – and they start with asking the right questions. Vision is something that is built in years, but on the way there the strategy needs to adapt constantly.
You should make sure you are being honest with yourself, with where you are at every single point in time, but at the same time be very bold in terms of where you would like to be.
That means a constant battle internally that is really important to maintain and you need to make sure you set time aside to think about it.
Question: Coming to that what are the concrete steps or initiatives for turning ideas into real projects?
It starts with what we do every single day. The way we operate in terms of product development is through an operating model which is outcome focused. So even teams can come with proposals regarding the best ways to achieve results either through product and through different customer propositions or with other ways of delivering things and various technologies that can achieve that outcome easier. That’s how we operate every single day and the model adopted across all the European offices. That’s the first thing.
Then, we have events dedicated to innovation: our yearly Fedex Days where people can form teams even if they are not working together daily. They can shape ideas that might contribute to the business or to the world. They receive full empowerment to build the prototype that proves they have a winning idea and the evaluation is done by an expert jury.
This event has created a lot of momentum but at the same time a lot of engagement in people. You see them learning from one another and seeking out people with different experiences than themselves, as when you build a product you need input from people that know what the customers want, people that can build the technical solution, people that can shape the correct design for the customers, people that can get the data to prove that the proposed solution is the right one based on facts.
At the end of the day what brings people together is that they can shape the right product, that could turn into a winning customer proposition.
But innovation doesn’t take place only in technology. For example, Walking Month is an innovative idea. It started as an internal project from someone who thought that people could become healthier and at the same time contribute to a greater cause. From an event that started internally with someone that made a difference, Walking Month has become a community event for many years now. So that’s how you drive innovation really.
There are many aspects in which you can build innovation but these are just a few ideas where we did manage to succeed.
Question: Are there any other events or important plans that you have in terms of how you engage the community?
Engaging with the community has been one of our supporting strategy pillars ever since Betfair Romania Development existed and we did manage to keep it part of our DNA. To me that’s really important. We do have an internal program where people can participate and propose ways to support the community or people in need. The company funds those ideas and the person that came up with the idea becomes the lead of the initiative. It’s an example that shows empowerment exists and it should sit with each one of us. It’s not about who leads the company, it’s about every single one of us that wants to make a difference. We only provide the structures and the framework to actually be able to achieve that, so anyone from the company that wants to engage with the community in a certain way that they are passionate about can do so through our Pay it Forward program.
On a broader view, we obviously work a lot with the Cluj community in multiple different aspects. But at the end of the day we implement those through our people, that volunteer in such initiatives.
So while we have a very clear plan with regards to what we do, at the same time we are very open with where we could do more and what our people are passionate about.
Question: We’ve spoken a lot about the way we do things internally and internal innovation. There’s also the aspect of external innovation. What do you think about the Alpha Hub accelerator and its transition to an innovation platform?
I think that in itself has proven what type of company we are, one that is always looking for new technologies, new perspectives and new ways of doing things. Alpha Hub came as a result of our thinking. We wanted to explore and to meet people that do things in a different way and may be experts in areas where we are not. While we started Alpha Hub as an exploratory program with the aim to meet new companies and to seek out potentially new solutions for challenges that we have, I think we are now in a position where we seem very close to develop projects which could end-up to be customer facing. To me this shows that we have maintained our commitment to explore those ideas up until the end. And we’ve done so. I believe a lot more is going to come through that program. Last year has obviously been year one, but after a year we already have results. I expect it’s going to be one of our supporting pillars for delivering innovation to customers, basically through new experiences and perspectives which we could get also externally.
I think it’s extremely important to be aware that the world moves on every single day, regardless of whether we are an individual or a professional or a company. We can make a choice whether we innovate or not. But even the fact that we don’t innovate is a choice.
It’s really important that we constantly look at ourselves and that we continue to evolve because we need to maintain our position in this always changing world.
So probably the key focus should be on innovating, as that’s how we stay in line with what’s going on in the world. We should not forget we always have that capability to transform ourselves as individuals and we should leverage it, because there is a reason why we have that.
TO BE CONTINUED…