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Zeal streamlines executive board after Martens exits as COO

| By Robert Fletcher
Online lottery operator Zeal Group is to streamline its executive board after Sönke Martens stepped down as chief commercial officer.
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Martens’ exit from the Zeal board is effective as of today (30 November). This comes after he opted not to extend his board contract that is due to expire at the end of June 2024. 

He will now seek to pursue new opportunities outside the business. However, Martens will continue to serve Zeal until the end of February 2024 to enable a seamless transition of responsibilities.

Martens has been with Zeal since June 2014, working across various parts of the business. These include its eSailors segment, Lotto24 and Tipp24. He moved into his current role as COO of the group in July 2021. 

Prior to joining Zeal, Martens founded real estate venture Loftville.com and also worked for XING, Roland Berger Strategy Consultants and HSH Nordbank. 

Zeal CEO regrets Martens’ exit

Martens’ departure means the Zeal executive board will now be reduced to three members. Zeal said this will become effective as of tomorrow (1 December). The board will comprise CEO Helmut Becker, new chief financial officer Sebastian Bielski and chief technology officer Paul Dingwitz.

CEO Becker paid tribute to the outgoing Martens, saying he regrets his decision to leave the business. 

“On behalf of the entire executive board I would like to extend my gratitude and best wishes to Sönke for his passion and start-up spirit he brought to the company,” Becker said. “Only this year, he and his team successfully launched the biggest marketing campaign in the history of Lotto24. 

“Under his leadership Zeal tripled billings in the core business, successfully integrated the Lotto24 and Tipp24 businesses and achieved a significant improvement in customer lifetime values and the way we win new customers. 

“We regret his decision to leave Zeal and pursue entrepreneurial opportunities outside of Zeal. We wish him the best for the future.”

Martens follows former CFO Mattsson out of Zeal

Martens becomes the second major departure in just a matter of months for Zeal. In August, it was also revealed Jonas Mattsson had chosen not to extend his tenure as chief financial officer after eight years in the role.

Mattsson opted to leave the business to spend more time with his family, officially stepping down on 30 September. 

He was replaced by Bielski, who joined Zeal from solar power business Energiekonzepte Deutschland. Bielski served as CFO at the business since December 2022.

Mattsson was also CFO of the Lotto24 business. Andrea Behrendt, currently vice-president for group controlling at Zeal, replaces him in the role initially until March 2024.

Zeal returns to earnings growth

Martens’ departure also comes on the back of Zeal publishing its year-to-date results earlier this month. Zeal said it absorbed a significant increase in marketing expenses to post income and earnings growth in the nine months to 30 September.

Key figures released include billings which grew by 16% to €633.2m (£547.5m/$695.5m). At the same time, revenue increased by 16% to €86.0m. At 12.5%, the group’s gross margin was close to the previous year’s figure of 12.8%.

Even taking into account Zeal’s increased investment in marketing, EBITDA increased by 5% to €23.2m. The growth after Q3 was significant as marketing expenditure had led to a 15% dip in earnings after Q2.

EBIT amounted to €16.7m while the after-tax result for the period fell to €10.1m from €12.1m last year.

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