At just 25, he's recently been appointed as managing director of the family firm. Karen Dent talks gaming machines, pubs and smartphone technology with Bob Rudd boss Nick Rudd, and discovers why his dad is his biggest influence.
APART from a phase fancying himself as a footballer, Nick Rudd says he never wanted to do anything else but work for the family business.
Bob Rudd, founded by and named after his father in 1989, is the fast-growing gaming and amusement machine company based in Newcastle that covers around half of the country.
Rudd junior took over three months ago and his father became chairman of the business that he started with a single jukebox. Today, there are 110 staff and depots in Newcastle, Leeds, Keswick, Warrington and Newark.
“I officially first of all started in the vans as an installation technician, when I was 16 ... the legal age to start work,” says Rudd.
“I did all that through school and sixth form. I went to uni in Sheffield, and I did a gap year as marketing manager.
“I came back from uni and I was appointed operations and marketing director, and then three months ago I was appointed managing director.
“It’s very diverse and diversity keeps you going. It’s not mundane, there’s always something happening. It’s a million miles an hour.”
The company truly is a family business. Mum Sharon looks after permits, while younger sister Charlotte worked as fleet manager, although her ambition is to join the police force.
Rudd, however, says he was “ingrained in the culture of the company” early and other than his footballing dreams, has never thought about a different direction.
Although keen to make his mark, he says the company is Bob Rudd, not Nick Rudd, “all the way”.
“There couldn’t be a better mentor than a guy who left school when he was 13 to work in Parsons as a labourer,” he says.
“He’s been in the Army, he’s been in the special forces ... he had no corporate background as such.
“He’s done everything, he worked as a one-armed bandit engineer in the 60s, to be being a collector, an account manager, so he’s done all the roles.
“He’s seen everything. He’s been frustrated at other companies so that allows him to change his style of operating. And he’s been around for ever and a day – so it’s a good brand and it’s well-respected internally.
“It will stay Bob Rudd as long as I’m in charge. He’s still very hands on ... the day he retires will probably be the day he’s in a wooden box! He’ll say that as well.”
New technology is top of Nick’s agenda and his father’s support has allowed him to push plans forward.
“I haven’t hit any brick walls, whereas maybe if I was in a different organisation, saying ‘I want to do this, I want to do that’ ...
Part of the change is in response to declining numbers of pub-goers.
“The smoking ban undoubtedly affected the pub trade and there’s figures to prove that,” says Rudd.
“You’ve got little Tommy there who is 95, fought in two world wars and he can’t have a cigar or he can’t smoke his pipe in the corner of the pub – he’s got to walk outside in the freezing cold rain; that doesn’t happen.
“I think as well there’s the cheap booze in supermarkets. People can buy a crate of lager for a tenner, they can sit at home, smoke in the house or smoke outside, and now with all the Sky that’s available as well. People used to come to the pub to watch the match, but now it’s so readily available.”
He points to the new generation of “cocooners” – people who don’t go out, have the best TVs and use social media and smartphones.
“We decided to look at those three things, and we said we had to shift our emphasis and it’s got to be to become more retail support,” says Rudd.
“That was to drive people to pubs, using gaming and amusement equipment. So that would be like running pool competitions but we then continued those pool competitions on social media platforms such as Facebook.
“It was giving them an extra reason to come to the pub, meet their mates and they could at the same time have a little crack on Facebook.
“As we got more into that, we saw some good positive results on earnings, not only on equipment but in the pubs.
“There are a few people like [Newcastle interactive technology firm] Screenreach, who we’re working with, who have got smartphone technology that we’ve taken and we’re working with them to develop a solution for pubs, whereby there’s a little black box which takes an AV channel on screen in the pub, you download a free app and you can then control the screen.
“The idea is the more players are in, the more points they’ll get. It encourages that loyalty to come back.
“At the same time, it gives pubs that person’s data and allows them to communicate with that person like sending them push notifications as well via the app, so we spent a lot of time on that.
“We’re the first to use smartphone technology as well and we’ve signed exclusivity to certain technology in the UK.”
He launched the Bonus Bob character, with his own website, Twitter and Facebook pages, to interact directly with players. Bonus Bob has forums, offers game hints and tips and helps the firm find out what players want.
Next up will be a Bonus Bob smartphone app.
Rudd says: “We can use that with the pubs and they can put special offers on, so it all works hand in hand. We really want the pub industry to thrive.
“I remember speaking to a licensee in Wallsend by the shipyards and he said at lunchtime, they used to have 14 pints lined up and he had five bar staff because they all came in together.
“Now you hear the Vickers plant is closing down, and you think about that industry and all the shipyards – and there was a correlation between that sort of industry and the pub goers; that has affected us.”
His enthusiasm for the business and ensuring it grows with the expectations of its 21st Century customers is infectious.
Rudd said: “My dad is a member of a trade union. He doesn’t come from a corporate background, he’s very much a people’s person. I want people to recognise the company and think, yes, that’s a really nice company.”