The Sunday Times

Richard Hadida, co-founder of Evolution Gaming: My latest gamble to push the boats out

Richard Hadida was in Cape Town last year when he decided to buy Oyster Yachts out of administration. He was visiting a friend, the motor sport mogul Eddie Jordan. The pair, who co-own a £6m Oyster 885, hatched a plan to rescue the luxury boat maker.

“I suddenly thought, ‘This is my mission, I’m the man to do this,’ ” said Hadida, 53, who co-founded Evolution Gaming, now listed on the Swedish stock exchange with a value of more than £2bn.

Jordan eventually pulled out, but Hadida’s offer was chosen from 14 bids to bring Oyster back from the brink of collapse. The Southampton-based firm, founded 46 years ago and employing 270 staff, had been hit by a costly legal battle since one of its yachts sank off Spain four years ago.

Hadida has a job on his hands if he is to recreate the success of Evolution. He and his two co-founders established the company in 2006 after spotting the opportunity for gambling firms presented by faster internet speeds. Evolution provides technology for the likes of Ladbrokes and William Hill to produce live-action casino games. Last year it posted a pre-tax profit of €89.5m (£76.4m) on sales of €245.4m. It employs more than 5,000 staff.

Hadida is still the creative director, but has sold most of his shares and is no longer involved in the day-to-day operation. His focus is on Oyster, which sells vessels ranging from an “entry-level” 56ft for £1.5m to a top-of-the-range 120ft option for £18m.

New boats can take 70,000 hours to build — and in a good year, Oyster sells 15 to buyers around the world. Hadida wants to increase the number to 25. “It’s proper hard work,” he said. “There’s so many parts of the business that need fixing.”

The chief executive is one of the super-rich able to afford a luxury yacht, but it has not all been plain sailing. A failed business venture in his twenties, when he tried to create a “paperless office system” in the days before email, left Hadida bankrupt. “All my friends had houses and wives and dogs and I was back in my mother’s spare bedroom,” he said.

The entrepreneurial bug runs in the family. His father, Michael, ran Hadida Shower Curtains, which cornered the market in Britain before manufacturing went to China.

The success left an impression on his son. “My father and his friends were all entrepreneurs and all drove Ferraris and Rolls-Royces. They did not have an O-level between them,” he said.

That led Hadida to decide that formal education was not for him. He dropped out of the local University College School in Hampstead, northwest London, at the age of 17, a decision that left his mother, Susan, “furious and devastated”.

He went to a jobcentre and found work at London Zoo, “cleaning out the snakes”. He moved on to the information technology firm ICL, where he learnt how to program.

Hadida launched Evolution at the age of 40 after “fiddling around” for a decade. He wants to bring his tech experience into the traditional world of boat building: “I’m putting technology in everywhere to improve efficiency.”

Hadida lives in Cookham Deane, Berkshire, with his wife, Jenny, and two sons aged 12 and 14. Unsurprisingly, they are all keen sailors.

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