Xesus Johnston — new man at the control with big results to show

Xesus Johnston — new man at the control with big results to show

Meet Prime Sports boss who is revolutionising Jamaica's gaming industry


Sunday, November 29, 2020

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XESUS Johnston has emerged on the Jamaican sports betting landscape as a proven high performer in a relatively short time.

He is, of course, marking one year at the helm of Prime Sports Jamaica Ltd, a Supreme Ventures subsidiary, as the company's chief executive officer, the first individual to be so appointed by the company of similar age, on November 1, 2019.

But who is this man? Well, the eldest son of Jamaica Observer columnist and Rhodes Scholar Franklin Johnston grew up on a coffee farm in St Andrew East Rural at Hall's Delight, near Dallas, before his family moved down the slope to urban St Andrew.

Following solid performances at Mona Preparatory School, he earned a high school placement at Jamaica's famed leader of academic achievement, Campion College, and completed sixth form studies at Jamaica College nearby.

Xesus's exploits in football saw him representing Campion College at the Colt's level, but a shattered dream of making the final and going on to win the title by a rampaging Excelsior High School in the semi-final, blemished his short career at the St Andrew institution.

He was also a member of Campion's class three 4x100 metres relay team which placed second at the Boys' and Girls' Athletic Championship one year, but suffered the indignity of a disqualification — the result of a horrendous baton change.

Accepted by The University of the West Indies to read for a degree in law at its Cave Hill Campus, Xesus soon shifted to pursuing a bachelor's degree in management and finance, which sharpened his entrepreneurial skills and brought on a thirst for economic success.

Being in Barbados expanded his appetite for sport. He played division one football there, and even coached a women's team on the Cave Hill Campus.

As the first home-grown chief executive to oversee the largest gaming portfolio in Jamaica, he uniquely is the first CEO not to have emerged from a gaming organisation like International Game Technology, known popularly as IGT. His relatively new, yet highly influential role follows stints at Flow as one of that company's regional general managers; Jamaica Beverages, and Facey Telecoms. He has been at Supreme Ventures for the past two years, leading a combined staff and retail team of over 1,700, and financial results that, according to him, are “pretty decent considering the effects of COVID-19”.

“It's important for the Jamaican people and Jamaican young men in particular to be able to see an example of a man who looks like them, who didn't have to have any special hand-out or gift, running a team where they are innovating, and doing changes,” said the father of two daughters and a son.

Citing an importance to stay close to the workers and retailers who keep the positive wheels turning, Xesus is not one to fall in love with his office and stay within that space. Going into the field is critical to him.

“I have a programme where two to three days a month I pick a parish and visits retailers, to be seen on the ground by my people, some of whom tell me they had never been visited by a CEO from anywhere. It is important that you allow the people to see you and know what you are doing,” he said.

“Retailers are the heart of our operations,” he continued. “They are the tip of the sword in terms of meeting the customer and being a key source to drive our revenue. Our retailers' loyalty programme was launched last year, whereby any retailer or member of their staff or family will have unlimited discounts with some key service providers. Even though our retailers are not employees, they are third party, small and medium-sized business people who believe in the Supreme Ventures dream and are able to sell our products. We not only give them a commission, but seek to determine how can we also help to give them things that benefit their business? So we negotiated with Sagicor and they gave us a discounted health insurance because of the size of our base.

“We have also gone to people like Guardsman and their cash courier service and they have given us special discounts for retailers; King Alarm too; so we continue to go to differet partners and add products into a Retailer Loyalty Programme, so that it helps to benefit their livelihoods,” Johnston said of the retailers.

Even during the depth of COVID-19, the company got a lot closer to its retailers, the CEO said, offering support in terms of messaging, with signs, sanitisers, and constantly working with them to ensure that they can remain open and that they can serve the customer in the safest and best way possible.

As lead subsidiary of the Supreme Ventures Group, Prime Sports Jamaica runs and manages all of Supreme's numbers games, including Lotto, Super Lotto, Cash Pot, the pick games, the top-up business of selling credit for Digicel and Flow, gaming lounges, JustBet sports betting, and retail and online betting through Supreme Routes, whereby the company acquired the assets of Champion Betting; as well as the Retail Channel.

The only thing that Prime Sports does not run in the group is Caymanas Park racing and Guyana gaming operations.

The CEO declined to outline the breakdown of revenue and profit by the group, but information received by the Sunday Observer suggests that Prime Sports is responsible for approximately 85 per cent of overall group revenue, and around 90 per cent of profit, which is running at $1.6 billion up to the third quarter of this calendar year, a downturn compared to the $1 billion profit made in the first quarter.

Profits so far are 12 per cent below 2019, but still good, the CEO said, considering the negative effect that the pandemic has had on all areas of life.

“My first year could not have been more rewarding or challenging… all in the same breadth,” he summed up. “As a team we had built an organisational trajectory to roll out new products and services that obviously would have garnered more revenue and profits. What we didn't realise at the time is some of the things we were planning, in particular digitalisation, would have been so important in this type of COVID-19,” he said.

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