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Star loses key executives as CEO and CFO stand down

| By Robert Fletcher
Robbie Cooke is standing down as group CEO and managing director of Australia's Star Entertainment Group with immediate effect, while Christina Katsibouba will also exit as chief financial officer.
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Cooke and the board consider a leadership change being in the company’s best interests Star explained. Chairman David Foster will take on additional duties as executive chair while a search for a permanent CEO is conducted.

Cooke took over as CEO of Star in November 2022. In doing so, he became the operator’s fourth CEO in the space of year, following Matt Bekier, who resigned during The Star’s New South Wales investigation, John O’Neill and Geoff Hogg.

Prior to joining Star, Cooke was chief executive of Tyro Payments. However, he was better known for serving as managing director and group CEO of lottery business the Tatts Group from 2013 to 2018. He left soon after its sale to Tabcorp closed.

Cooke departs the top job at Star immediately. However, he will remain a consultant to the operator for the next six months.

Cooke exits amid New South Wales inquiriy

The news comes as Star faces a second inquiry from the New South Wales Independent Casino Commission (NICC). 

As announced last month, Adam Bell SC, who oversaw the first Bell report, will lead the inquiry, looking at how Star has implemented recommendations from the first.

Star was declared unsuitable to hold a casino licence in New South Wales in September 2022 after the initial investigation uncovered a catalogue of anti-money laundering and social responsibility failings.

Cooke said remaining as CEO would not be “conducive” while this process is ongoing. The inquiry will be running for 15 weeks, with a final report due 31 May.

“While I find the position exceptionally disappointing, I have reached the conclusion that my continuation in the group CEO role is not going to be conducive to the NICC determining to find Star capable of becoming suitable to hold a casino licence in NSW,” Cooke said.

“In these circumstances a change in leadership provides the best opportunity for the business to navigate the regulatory pressure it is facing. I take comfort in what we have achieved as a team over the last 16 months.

“I’m certain the company is now on the right path. David and the next CEO have my ongoing support in delivering on the key business and important strategic initiatives that are under way.”

Star chair hails Cooke’s “tireless” efforts

With Foster stepping into the new executive role, Anne Ward will assume the role of lead independent director. Foster praised the impact Cooke has had on the business in recent years.

“Robbie has worked tirelessly since he joined in October 2022, focusing on stabilising the operations, resolving a number of existential threats to the business, addressing separate remediation demands from regulators and rebuilding the management team and systems,” Foster said.

“This includes the addition of more senior risk, compliance and financial crime executives and the commencement of our culture transformation. Robbie shared in a resolve to put safe, responsible and ethical gaming at the core of what we do.”

Also reverencing the second New South Wales inquiry, Foster said he is confident that the operator will win back the trust of players.

“We remain absolutely committed to being judged suitable to hold a casino licence in New South Wales and Queensland,” Foster said. “In taking on executive duties, I am determined that the positive momentum at Star continues, as we work to win back the trust of our stakeholders. 

“The many thousands of people working across the company deserve stability and security and together they all continue to do great things to get the business back on track.”

CFO Katsibouba also heads for the exit

In other news, Star today also confirmed Christina Katsibouba is stepping down as its CFO. Former Tatts Group CFO Neale O’Connell will be taking on the role on an interim basis.

Katsibouba has served as CFO since May 2022 – first on an interim basis and later permanent – but will now exit Star after nine years with the operator.

Having joined Star in April 2015 as general manager of finance transformation, Katsibouba held a series of senior finance roles. These included group financial controller and deputy CFO. She was also group executive for gaming before becoming CFO almost two years ago.

Prior to joining Star, Katsibouba spent almost five years with Australian market business Salmat, again working in finance roles. She also has spells with both Apparal Group and PricewaterhouseCoopers.

Star said Katsibouba is leaving to pursue other interests away from the business.

“Christina stepped into the CFO role following the Bell inquiry in 2022,” Foster said. “After two challenging years she has decided the time is right to move on. 

“She leaves with both the board’s and my personal thanks, for her tireless efforts as CFO and as an executive with the group. We wish her well.”

O’Connell takes temporary CFO role

Katsibouba is succeeded by O’Connell, an experienced executive across both the gaming and leisure industries.

O’Connell was most recently global CFO for Corporate Travel Management between July 2019 and June 2021. Prior to this, he spent almost 14 years with Tatts Group, first as group general manager finance before becoming CFO.

His earlier career roles included finance director at Delta Group Australia and group financial controller for Smorgan Steel. In recent years, he has spent time as a strategic advisor for Songtradr and currently serves as a board member for the Financial Executives of Australia. 

“Neale is a highly capable and credentialed replacement,” Foster said. “With both an industry and listed company track record, he will bring new perspectives and leadership to our executive team. 

“Star operates in a highly regulated environment and is going through significant internal change. Neale’s expertise from previous roles will be highly valued.”

Star returns to profit in H1

The news comes after Star last month revealed it was able to return to a net profit during the first half of its 2024 financial year. This was despite also reporting a decline in group revenue.

Revenue fell 14.6% to AU$865.7m (£447.2m/€521.3m/US$564.6m) in H1. However, Star moved into the black with a net profit of $9.1m, compared to a $1.26bn loss in the previous year.

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