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Entain adds Eminence Capital CEO Sandler to board

| By Robert Fletcher
Entain has announced the appointment of Ricky Sandler, founder and CEO of investment management organisation Eminence Capital, as a non-executive director.
Aristocrat Primmer

The new appointment is effective immediately, with Sandler joining the Entain board. 

He will also become a member of Entain’s People & Governance and Capital Allocation committees. With the former, Sandler will support Entain in identifying an additional non-executive director mutually agreeable to Eminence and Entain.

Sandler founded New York-based Eminence Capital in 1999, leading the organisation as its CEO for over 25 years. He also serves as chief investment officer.

Prior to this, he co-founded Fusion Capital Management and spent time as a research analyst for Mark Asset Management Corporation. 

Entain chair talks up “substantial” growth opportunities

Reflecting on his appointment, Sandler said he was pleased to be joining a business with “enviable” positions in markets worldwide. He added that he is looking forward to supporting Entain with its long-term growth plans.

“Entain is a robust business with market-leading brands, a unique technology platform and enviable positions in key geographies around the world,” Sandler said. “I look forward to working with my fellow directors to help Entain achieve long-term success and create lasting value for its shareholders.”

Entain chairman Barry Gibson also welcomed the appointment. He said Sandler would help the group pursue what he described as “substantial” growth opportunities.

“I am pleased to welcome Ricky to the board of Entain,” Gibson said. “Ricky has a deep knowledge of our business and a firm belief in the quality of our operations and substantial growth opportunities.  

“We look forward to benefiting from his perspectives and expertise as we work to drive value for all Entain shareholders.”

Sandler urged Entain to offload BetMGM stake, critical of STS deal

Sandler’s appointment comes as no surprise, having been mooted last month by the Sunday Times.

What makes the appointment perhaps more interesting is his previous comments about Entain selling off its stake in BetMGM. Sandler has previously called on Entain to sell all or part of the BetMGM joint venture with MGM Resorts.

Sandler also penned an open letter to Entain in June 2023 criticising its acquisition of STS in Poland. Entain brokered the deal earlier in the same month and went on to complete the £750m (€865m/$948m) purchase in August.

At the time, Sandler outlined how Eminence had a 2.1% stake in Entain and held shares since 2020. He also spoke about how Eminence held regular talks with management at Entain about its plans to maximise shareholder value.

However, Sandler hit out at Entain’s decision to fund the STS acquisition by issuing shares representing approximately 8% of its market cap. Sandler branded the move as “perplexing on many levels”. 

“While we can support the company pursuing seemingly rational acquisitions, funding them with highly undervalued equity is an empire building, shareholder value destroying strategy,” Sandler said at the time. 

“Further, that the Entain board has previously rejected multiple takeover approaches at materially higher prices on the grounds that those offers undervalued the company, but then turn around and issue equity at depressed prices for an asset that is at best a ‘nice to have’ is illogical.”

Sandler raised concerns over share price

Sandler also highlighted how Entain’s share price fell 8% in the days after the deal was announced. He said this led to more than £650m being lost in market value.

This led to him openly criticising Entain’s board and management team, describing them as “tone deaf”.

“We can assure you that this particular shareholder is outraged and in light of the movement in the company’s share price we are clearly not alone in that sentiment,” Sandler said. “As shareholders lose confidence in Entain’s ability to allocate capital and create long term value, it is quite likely they will support a sale of the company to MGM at a materially lower price than previously assumed.

“Eminence will continue to make its voice heard in an effort to ensure Entain’s board and management do not make any further value destructive decisions.”

Change at the top for Entain

Sandler’s appointment also follows last month’s departure of Jette Nygaard-Andersen as CEO of Entain.

Nygaard-Andersen resigned in mid-December, with non-executive director Stella David becoming interim chief executive. This led to a series of changes in the boardroom and within board committees. 

Entain appointed board member Pierre Bouchut as senior independent director, replacing David. Virginia McDowell was named chair of the Remuneration Committee, with Gibson becoming chair of the People and Governance Committee. 

Finally, Rahul Welde was appointed as a member of the People and Governance Committee.

Nygaard-Andersen’s resignation came days after Entain resolved a case with the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) in reference to historic activities in Turkey.

The terms saw Entain agree to pay a £585.5m (€679.0m/$740.8m) financial penalty, as well as a £20m charitable donation and £10m to HMRC and CPS costs.

STS names new chair and CEO

In related news, STS last month also announced changes to its own management team

Radim Haluza became the operator’s new chief executive, while also remaining as CEO of Entain CEE. Long-serving STS chief executive Mateusz Juroszek switched from that role to become chairman of the supervisory board.

Entain CEE confirmed the remaining composition of STS’ management board, managerial structure and plans for growth in the Polish market remain unchanged.

Central and Eastern Europe-facing Entain CEE was created in 2022 to make acquisitions across the region. Entain has a 75% stake in Entain CEE, with Emma Capital holding the other 25% stake.

Speaking last year, Mikolaj Cymerman, head of corporate development at Entain CEE, said the group was formed to exploit the region’s potential.

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