Dr Richard Wilson OBE, CEO of TIGA
��I don't want to sound as if I have a Napoleonic complex, but I have always wanted to make an impact, to make decisions, to be a leader.”
Dr Richard Wilson OBE describes himself as “very much an all or nothing person.” A trait, he concedes, that was evident from an early age at school. “The subjects that I loved,” he says. “I’d give 100 per cent to. The subjects that I didn’t love, I’d be dragged screaming through them. So my biggest challenges since childhood have been getting on with the things I didn’t enjoy.”
The subjects “endured” tended to be the sciences, while those he fully devoted his attention to were history and politics; the classes where the leaders and influential figures took prominence.
It’s clear that much of the early stages of Richard’s leadership development began back then in the classroom, as he observed the historical accounts of past rulers. As our interview progresses, he makes reference to powerful leaders like Winston Churchill, Julius Caesar, King Louis XVI, and other exciting characters that have spanned the centuries and the decisions that would affect their respective civilisations. “Whether it’s a king of England, a caliph of the Islamic empire or a czar of Russia, I was fascinated to see how they responded to particular situations; what they did with their countries, how they responded to popular pressure, and how they tried to move their countries forward.
“I don't want to sound as if I have a Napoleonic complex, but I have always wanted to make an impact, to make decisions, to be a leader.”
Seeking lessons from history is something Richard will often undertake in his personal life too. His casual reading will often comprise of historic or political books, which he’ll consider with a reflective eye. “I’ll always think to myself, what are the learning points from that? Of course sometimes there won’t be any obvious learning points, but other times there will be something you can pick up on and you think okay, that’s something to bear in mind.”
After completing a BA and Masters in history and politics at university, Richard spent four years completing a PhD in politics. From there his career spanned business lobbying and a stint as communications director for the Royal Academy of Engineering, before settling at his current role as CEO of TIGA, the trade association representing UK video game developers.
Richard admits that taking his current role was the biggest risk of his professional career, but is delighted with the result. “When I first became the CEO of TIGA the organisation was quite small, it was making a loss and it didn’t have a big profile. I’m delighted I did though, because the video games industry is a fascinating sector with lots of interesting people and interesting technology. I wanted the UK to be the best place in the world to develop video games; that was my ambition, my vision for TIGA.”
The first thing Richard did was research gaming industries in other countries, to see how they were performing and what could be mirrored in the UK. He particularly noted the tax breaks and other investment incentives offered in the United States and Canada for video game investment. For an industry requiring highly skilled employees, with intense research and development phases and strong focus on export, Richard saw a UK industry that was being hindered by its current approach.
“I believe that it was vital for the UK to introduce its own tax breaks on production, and this essentially reduces the cost of games development. So I led what turned out to be a seven year campaign to introduce video games tax relief.
“I was convinced this was the measure that we needed to enable us to compete on a level playing field. It took seven years from initiation to fruition, but the impact has been tremendous. We've seen scores of new studios set up, thousands of new jobs created and million pounds of additional investment.”
Richard’s three leadership lessons for overturning a struggling business
1. “In life I've actually come to the conclusion that when running my own business, the key thing is to always reinforce success. And I think the best business leaders don't reinforce failure, they reinforce success.”
2. “The two biggest challenges of being a CEO are time and money,” he says. “Both are in short supply, and so I believe that, as a CEO, you have to really concentrate your resources, your money and your time, on typically one key strategic goal. Focus all your effort on the achievement of one major goal and follow through until you succeed. For me, being a CEO is about being disciplined and focused on resources.”
3. “Success is going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm,” he adds. “When we were campaigning for video games tax relief, we were also campaigning for other measures that would help the industry grow. Quite often we’d be knocked back or our proposals rejected, but there were two important things to realise. One, to remain positive; and two, no setback, defeat, or difficulty is ever going to be final. Every time we had a setback, I just thought, well, what have we got to do to try and improve our chances of success next time?”
In the Queen’s New Year 2018 Honours List, Richard was awarded an OBE for his vision and implementation of the video game tax relief campaign that led to the creation of new studios, thousands of jobs and millions of pounds of investment in the UK gaming industry. Since its introduction in 2014, the industry has gone from strength to strength, reporting seven per cent growth per annum.
Of the recognition, Richard says: “I was enormously surprised, honoured and delighted to get an OBE for services for the video games industry. I celebrated with a large bottle of champagne on New Year's Eve, and when we had the investiture back in June. Buckingham Palace was very good; I met Prince Charles who was very charming and had a real twinkle in his eye. They allowed me to bring my wife, my mum and my three children and we had a lovely time.”
As with all good leaders, Richard is constantly looking to the future. His industry utilises highly skilled professionals from the European Union, which is a concern ahead of the Brexit deadline in March 2019, and like many organisations, TIGA is also looking to improve access to finance in the tech sector.
As technology improves and the capacity for video games to penetrate new markets increases, Richard is working to ensure that the UK industry is at the forefront of the expansion.
“I think we'll see further penetration of video games in the market,” he explains. “But I also think you'll see the technology being used in other sectors. For example, already some car manufacturers and sales companies are using VR for sales or training purposes. So you'll see the dispersal of video game technology taking place as well.
“I think video games have a part to play in health and science too. In fact, at TIGA we run a series of awards each year, and we have a particular category called the ‘best educational game’ or game with a purpose. We've seen companies submit games for this category that have helped people deal with arachnophobia, or games that help people deal with environmental problems.
“Sometimes these are aimed at school children, sometimes they're for adults. So I think the scope of using video games in other sectors of society is really large.”
Having made a previously costly organisation turn a profit for the past ten years, along with winning numerous business awards and commendations in the process, Richard aims to continue spotting opportunities for TIGA, lobbying for change and making a beneficial impact on the wider sector.
“What I would like to achieve is making sure that the UK really is the very best place in the world to make video games. I think we made great progress over the last 10 years, but there's still more to do.”
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