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Daily media information 🤐😈🤡 Tabcorp’s Rytenskild started out flipping burgers

This exec started out flipping burgers. Now he runs a $2b company

Tabcorp chief executive Adam Rytenskild came through the ranks and now he wants to “blow the cardigan off” the old-school TAB.

Inside pubs, clubs and beside racetracks across Australia a fierce brawl between a once complacent bookmaking monopoly and nimble foreign competitors is heating up.

The new Tabcorp chief executive, Adam Rytenskild, has limbered up for the fight of his professional life, after the wagering company spun off the lucrative $9.7 billion lotteries business – The Lottery Corporation – four months ago.

Adam Rytenskild left university to put food on the table for his young family. Rhett Wyman

Rytenskild says there are too many people on blue and red apps sitting in pubs, referring to gamblers choosing Sportsbet and Ladbrokes, the more nimble international online-only rivals that have left Tabcorp bruised.

Getting even with the international rivals on tax arrangements and product ranges is the doubled-headed fight facing Tabcorp, which started life as the state-owned Victorian TAB (Totalisator Agency Board), which legalised off-racecourse betting in 1961.

Speaking from Tabcorp’s office in Sydney’s CBD, Rytenskild is a world away from his birthplace on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea, at the former hospital that now houses the Australian detention centre.

I really have a ‘no dickhead policy’. I think that’s important.

Adam Rytenskild

His parents were teachers at the local school on the island where he lived for a year before they headed back to Australia.

Rytenskild moved around a lot as a child. His parents took up new teaching gigs every few years, spending a couple of years in London before ending up on the NSW Central Coast.

He says all the fresh starts helped guide his leadership style, teaching him how to read a room, listen to different views and bring people together.

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Rytenskild’s career path is also not of the garden variety kind.

At the age of 19, Rytenskild, who now lives on Sydney’s north shore,

became a father and started work at a Mobil service station flipping burgers and serving customers.

He began his first year at Griffith University but left to put food on the table for his young family, eventually working his way up to manage 2000 people across the NSW Mobil stores. He never went back to university.

Flipping burgers

“I started on the forecourt and flipping burgers at South Tweed Heads Mobil and worked my way up from there,” he says, pointing out that most people assumed he had started in the graduate corporate program rather than in customer service.

Fast-forward almost two decades, and family again called, this time prompting a move to Melbourne. He took a job with Tabcorp in 2000, again working his way up to the executive team in 2010 and completing an MBA in the meantime.

After 17 years with Tabcorp, Rytenskild says it was a “surprise” when he was tapped to lead the wagering and media unit in 2017 at the time of the merger with Tatts. Five years later he was kept on to take the helm of the demerged company, which is valued at $2.2 billion.

The top job is no walk in the proverbial park.

The rationale for spinning off The Lottery Corporation from Tabcorp was that it would boost the market value of the former, as it would no longer need to support an underperforming wagering business.

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Analysts and investors wonder loudly whether it is possible to kick-start Tabcorp, which has been injured by years of under-investment and complacency. Will punters start using Tab’s new app it hired Accenture to build in time for the racing season to start?

Queensland has lifted its point of consumption wagering tax for all bookmakers. Racing Queensland

A glance at people’s phone screens at the pub and trackside will reveal the answers to that in the coming months after the app was launched this week.

Market watchers are also wondering if Tabcorp – which owns the TAB brand in states and territories outside Western Australia – will secure the lucrative WA licence and retain its Victorian wagering permit.

It’s bookmakers at ten-paces in Western Australia, with Tabcorp, Entain and Matt Tripp/News Ltd all wanting to get their hands on WA TAB. But the main game is in Victoria where the state has just (re)started talks on a new wagering licence due to commence in August 2024.

The new-broom CEO has had some early wins.

Tax take

He has levelled up the tax take in Queensland and NSW, so Tabcorp isn’t disadvantaged against the Ireland-based Sportsbet and Isle of Man-based Ladbrokes, which were paying a flat international tax rate of 10 per cent. Now NSW requires all bookmakers to pay 15 per cent while the sunshine state charges 20 per cent.

Further, Tabcorp has finally stemmed years of falling market share, making modest gains in the year to July.

Tabcorp’s market share of 783,000 active digital customers on a rolling 12-month basis, equates to 24.9 per cent of the market, up from 23.5 per cent a year ago. Rival Sportsbet, listed under Flutter Entertainment in London, claims it has a market share of about 50 per cent in Australia.

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The company also announced $150 million of capital expenditure to bolster its position in the ongoing war with overseas-backed betting companies.

That said, Rytenskild is yet to provide earnings guidance to the market and Tabcorp stock has slid 8 per cent to 98¢ since the demerger in May.

Rytenskild laments Tabcorp’s former top management before the demerger for lacking imagination and failing to give the wagering division the cash it needed to build products to bat off rivals.

“It wasn’t connected enough to customer and customer outcomes. There was too much bureaucracy and red tape, which slowed things down. It was a pretty risk-averse culture,” he says.

Rytenskild is trying to rebuild the culture of the company, as well as the products on offer. He has hired four new executives as part of the transformation and wants straight shooters.

“Frankly, this is a bit colloquial, but it’s true for me. I really have a ‘no dickhead policy’. I think that’s important.

“I want people in the company and on my team who are genuine. They’re authentic people, and they go-getters.”

Rytenskild is father to three daughters, including an air force pilot and an artist from his first marriage. His third daughter is sitting her final high school exams this year in Melbourne, where he spends every second week.

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He says he’s conscious that betting on the races is a notoriously blokey Australian pastime.

Women’s sport is a growth area Tabcorp is targeting, he says, with the hope that women will enter the betting fray as part of their broader enjoyment of sport.

“Having a bet as part of watching your team play should add to that entertainment experience if we’re doing it right.

“With Tab we want to blow the cardigan off TAB and rescue the category from blokes world.”

Cultural shift

It will take a large cultural shift for that to happen. The vast bulk of gamblers are men, and during COVID lockdowns many more young men took up betting, a move which has gambling harm experts worried.

Rytenskild says problem gambling is something to which he pays attention.

“It’s important for us to be able to have the safest ecosystem we can for them so that they can manage their own gambling in the safest way, but also that we have the right culture, where we can intervene if there’s a change in behaviour,” he says.

Rytenskild lives on the north shore of Sydney with his partner Amanda Lee, the recently appointed chief people officer at AGL Energy.

They’re both in businesses undergoing great change. AGL failed to split its legacy assets from its renewable energy and retail arm after activist investor Mike Cannon-Brookes blew up the demerger earlier this year.

Asked if they talk about bringing old businesses into the 21st century around the dinner table, the Tabcorp chief laughs, saying it’s good to chat with someone who understands what big transformation looks like.

“We have some interesting dinner conversations.”

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Elouise FowlerReporterElouise Fowler is a journalist for The Australian Financial Review based in the Sydney office. Connect with Elouise on Twitter. Email Elouise at [email protected]

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