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Bingo and Beyond

Carl Leaver, CEO, Gala Coral Group

Bingo and Beyond

Gala Coral Group has a new CEO to go along with its new structure. In November, the U.K. betting/casino/bingo concern announced the appointment of outsider Carl Leaver as CEO.

For the 42-year-old Leaver it is a return to the leisure industry, although this will be his first experience with gaming. Exactly why Europe’s largest gaming operator has decided to put its future in the hands of someone new to the scene makes for interesting speculation.

Leaver, who has a degree in law and started out holding various positions at Mars, Forte and Nomura, began his career in leisure as director of sales for Whitbread, today the U.K.’s largest operator of budget hotels and restaurants. He gained individual property experience as general manager of the 380-room Slough/Windsor Marriott at Heathrow Airport before moving on to become operations director for Whitbread’s Marriott Hotel and Country Clubs.

In 2000, Whitbread appointed Leaver managing director of its rapidly growing budget hotel chain, Premier Travel Inn. Under Leaver, the operator added 5,000 rooms to become the U.K.’s largest hotel brand. Sales increased by an average of 5 percent per year and operating profit grew 33 percent.

In August 2003, Leaver, at 35, became CEO of hotel and leisure operator De Vere Group. His strategy was to further develop existing brands, improve operational performance, get better returns at De Vere Hotels and speed up the establishment of the new Village Hotel brand. By the end of 2004 the company’s operations comprised 21 De Vere hotels of four and five stars, 137 five-star timeshare lodges, 14 Village Hotels and Leisure Clubs and 15 Greens Health and Fitness gyms. Leaver left De Vere in October 2006, following the company’s sale to Alternative Hotel Group for £1.1 billion.

In May 2007, he took a big step away from domestic leisure and into the world of global retail, joining Marks & Spencer as director of international business. Hired to develop the international side of things, within 15 months he assumed the lead of the online business and home wares as well. Rumors in the media pointed to Leaver as a likely candidate to succeed M&S Executive Chairman Sir Stuart Rose.

However, the following spring, Leaver suddenly quit the firm, following the reassignment of the online and home wares departments that left him again with international only.

In an article in the Telegraph, an unnamed source said of Leaver, “He is one of the few guys at M&S who will tackle Rose. Their relationship has been challenging at times but when Carl turned round and said he was going, Rose was taken aback.”

That was May 2009. Leaver appears to have taken his time to decide on his next move, much as he did in between the De Vere and M&S positions. During that time his name was tied to several companies as a possible CEO candidate, including Gala Coral competitor Ladbrokes.

The press release announcing his appointment to Gala Coral gave no real hint as to the direction Leaver plans to take the company. But given his past experience, he is certainly someone to watch.