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MERKUR INTERVIEW


Leading From T


Casino International has been, in preparation for ICE 2020, getting up close and personal with the Chief Executive, International of Merkur Gaming: Athanasios Isaakidis.


he name Athanasios Isaakides, made up of nine syllables, can present something of a challenge in its pronunciation to non-native Greek speakers. That is why the bearer of this name, a gaming industry veteran who, later in 2020 will mark up


25 years of experience and who holds the position of Chief Executive, International of the Gauselmann Group company Merkur Gaming is best known, and is most usually addressed as simply ‘Sakis’. Born in Greece but migrating with his family as a one-year-


old to Germany in 1969, Sakis found his way into the gaming industry in 1995 after first working in support of the British Army of the Rhine. “It is strange how it worked out,” he said. “My parents originally wanted to leave Greece because of the country’s political climate of the time and their first choice was Canada. But that proved hard to accomplish, so we ended up in Germany and that was where I was educated.” That education clearly indicated that Sakis would develop a technical background and he found employment in a technical support role alongside the British Army. After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the


reunification of East and West Germany a year later the British Army of the Rhine was vastly decreased in size and it was clear that Sakis would need to seek a new opportunity to further his career aspirations. That opportunity was to be life-changing as in 1995 Sakis joined the Gauselmann Group


and its Atronic subsidiary as assistant technical manager. Three years later came a promotion to become the Technical Director of Atronic and an increased focus, that remains to this day, on the company’s service, after sales, parts and refurbishment activities. In what was, at the time, a shock move Atronic was sold to


Lottomatica in 2008 and, in the same period , Sakis became the managing director of Atronic and, from then until 2015 worked under the brand of Spielo International covering, as he succinctly put it: “the world”. Times were changing at the Gauselmann Group. Major


regulatory changes in the German national market resulted in the Group accelerating its expansion into new markets and increasing its presence in existing territories. The momentum for those initiatives was the availability of industry legend Jens Halle who took up the position of CEO from the start of 2015. However, just a few months into his tenure, Jens Halle tragically passed away, but his vision of international expansion– that had been supported wholeheartedly by Paul Gauselmann – remained. The 2015 establishment of Merkur Gaming Americas, based in Deerfield Beach, Florida, and the rapidly increase in success and footprint of Merkur Gaming’s business throughout Latin America created a new and energetic climate that Sakis embraced totally. “I knew Jens, of course – as everyone in the industry did – but my first meeting with him in a real Merkur context was when he and I arranged to meet in late 2014, at a Christmas Market in my hometown of Minden. His enthusiasm and his passion came off him like a magnetic force and his great skill was in drawing people to him and expressing so vividly his ambition for the future.” Charles Hiten, a former colleague and great friend of Jens,


was appointed Chief Executive (later, CEO) of Merkur Gaming Americas and, with Sakis tasked with a similar expansion target throughout Europe and beyond, there began the great adventure of propelling Merkur Gaming into the very top echelon of major manufacturers. The philosophy of Athanasios Isaakides has always been to


‘lead from the front’. He describes that philosophy like so: “I have a now 12-strong team of directly-reporting seasoned industry professionals and also our external organisations in, for example, Serbia, Romania and the Netherlands. I would never ask any one of them to do something that I cannot do myself and if I see that they have a difficulty with something it is my direct responsibility to show them how to overcome it. If other people call it ‘leading from the front’ then I am perfectly happy with that. It is a culture that goes right back to my early days with Atronic. I had to learn so much and so quickly about efficient management then and, thinking back, I was so grateful to my boss at the time, Gerhard Burda. He


86 FEBRUARY 2020


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