Being able to operate at both the executive and operational levels of the business, Alex Butcher is a versatile MD who isn't afraid of getting his hands dirty. He tells BQ all about it...
What is it the company does?
Bede designs, builds and runs software platforms for online and retail gambling operators. Our software powers the websites of some of the largest brands in the UK market, such as Mecca Bingo, Grosvenor Casino and The Ritz Club London. We were founded six years ago and have rapidly grown to become a leading name in the B2B software space in the industry, now employing 180 staff across our offices in the UK and Bulgaria, and trusted by companies operating in four continents.
Describe your role in no more than 100 words.
I operate across three levels of the business. Firstly, at board level where we develop long-term strategy and take responsibility for finance and corporate matters. Secondly, at executive team level, where we focus on realising the strategy on a day-to-day basis setting plans and hitting our objectives. Finally, I play an important role ensuring that our culture, vision and values run through everything we do as a business. This includes communicating with staff to guarantee we're all pulling in the same direction, whether it's via a Bede Pulse (our ad hoc broadcast communications), at a Bede Beat (our company-wide meetings) or a ‘meet the executive’ lunch (this sees members of the executive team take groups of employees out for lunch from a variety of departments, as we find this helps people get to know one another and keeps communications lines open as we scale).
Give us a brief timeline of your career so far – where did you start, how did you move on?
I cut my teeth in a B2B manufacturing software company, working on distributed systems pre-internet. From there I moved to London and spent a few years working on a synthetic derivatives platform for an investment bank. These were the heady days pre-2008, and it was a lot of fun to be in the city at the time. After a few years in London I was ready for a change and headed out to South Africa, working between Johannesburg and Malawi for a year or so building a technology platform for an education charity. On my return to the UK I set up a technology innovation consultancy in London which grew to about 30 staff. We helped FTSE midcaps navigate the transition from outsourced waterfall IT projects to building their own high functioning, agile software teams. One of my early clients went on to become Bede Gaming, where I ended up moving to take the role of chief technology officer back in 2013. I was appointed as managing director earlier this year.
What do you believe makes a great leader?
I've read plenty of books that offer different answers to this, so it's definitely an inexact science. My working theory so far is a passion for the job, great coaching skills and an outstanding ability to communicate.
What has been the biggest challenge in your current position?
Scaling the staff base from 20 to 180 has presented a number of significant challenges given the short timeframe in which this has happened. As employee numbers increased we worked hard to ensure our culture was preserved, that we continued to hire people that fit the business and that we are all aligned around delivering the vision for the company.
What are your aspirations for Bede?
Bede's vision is to build the safest place to play – this means the most secure, fair and trustworthy technology platform and partner for our customers. I believe we are on track to build something truly market leading in this respect. As part of this journey, I see us partnering with some of the most trusted brands in the world, many of them government operators, from North America to Asia.
How do you alleviate the stress that comes with your job?
I live on the edge of the Pentland Hills just outside Edinburgh and I manage to get out on my mountain bike for a few rides a month. Within 30 minutes I can ride from my house to the top of the nearest hill and have views out to the North Sea. I also practice mindfulness. Around five years ago I went to a mindfulness meditation retreat in Morocco, which helped me build skills to park stress and be more present.
When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Growing up my parents read The Times newspaper. I was always fascinated by the stocks and shares page in the business section, listing the previous day's closing prices for every company on the London Stock Exchange. The earliest thing I can remember wanting to be was a stockbroker.
Any pet hates in the workplace? What do you do about them?
I have a strong dislike of displays of ego in the workplace. I've worked in companies that worshipped heroes, and they breed counterproductive cultures. At Bede we've created a friendly culture that hires very carefully, selecting for staff that fit our values of pioneering, open and driven. I'd rather have one outstanding team player than two engineers with combined IQs of 350 and egos to match.
Where do you see the company in five years’ time?
Running the online platforms of a dozen state lotteries in North America.
What advice would you give to an aspiring business leader?
Treat each of your interactions as a learning opportunity. Every colleague, customer, mentor, blog post and book you engage with is a learning opportunity. Similarly, when you fail at something, it's easy to be disappointed at first, but, assuming no one got hurt, if you can mentally reframe the failure as a learning opportunity then it increases your confidence to try new things. Approaching your day this way sets you up for continuous improvement.
What do you wish someone had told you when you started out?
Relax. Not having the solution to a problem that you're facing is a perfectly acceptable state to be in.
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