Bobby Kotick is the CEO of the video game holding company Activision Blizzard. “I couldn’t imagine doing anything different,” he said during a 2020 appearance on Leadership Live With David Rubenstein. “I think that for the next 30 years, if I have the opportunity to continue to do what I’m doing, I would love [to be] doing that.”
Bobby Kotick established the foundation for the multibillion-dollar business while he was a college student in 1983. During his first year at the University of Michigan, Kotick started a technology company, Arktronics, with his roommate Howard Marks. Kotick had a knack for developing Apple II software. Then, during his sophomore year, he took a risk and asked billionaire casino investor Steve Wynn to invest in Arktronics. That gamble paid off when Wynn invested $300,000 in Kotick’s budding tech company.
Establishing a Gaming Giant
Activision Blizzard has one of the most successful gaming libraries on the market, including the Call of Duty franchise, World of Warcraft, Candy Crush Saga, Farm Heroes Saga, and Overwatch. “Call of Duty is one of the most enduring franchises in entertainment,” notes Kotick. “The NFL, NBA, and Major League Baseball are perpetual entertainment experiences and probably the most similar to the experiences [Activision Blizzard] deliver. [And] we feel a tremendous responsibility to our audiences to keep our franchises exciting.”
Bobby Kotick continued on the pathway to success in December 1990. He and his partner, Brian Kelly, purchased a 25% stake in Activision after it had been renamed Mediagenic and was on the verge of bankruptcy. Kotick and Kelly shared a vision of restructuring the business to focus mainly on video games. It wasn’t easy. He had to sell the office furniture early on to ensure everyone got paid. “In our early days, being recognized on any list of great companies was hard to imagine,” says Kotick. “[All these] years later, we are the world’s most successful video game company.”
In 1991 he became the CEO of Mediagenic, which had reverted to the original Activision name. Throughout the ’90s, the video game company was responsible for popular games that included Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, Quake, Disney’s Tarzan, Battlezone, Independence Day, Civilization: Call to Power, and Diablo.
In 2008, Kotick helped orchestrate the merger between Activision and Vivendi, which brought Blizzard under the Activision umbrella. The company officially became Activision Blizzard, and Bobby Kotick became CEO of the newly formed video game holding company headquartered in Santa Monica, California.
“We have six operating units,” Kotick said. “Our games units consist of King, Blizzard, and Activision. This is the source of our incredible collection of franchises like Call of Duty, Candy Crush, and World of Warcraft. In addition, Major League Gaming is our ‘ESPN of video games’ division.”
Hiring the best talent is at the heart of every company decision. Kotick says Activision’s mission “is to inspire audiences to play, connect, and compete by making the most engaging entertainment in the world. Our talent evaluation process ensures that each new hire shares that commitment.”
Kotick continued, “Successful business leaders who have helped build institutions of lasting value — all are committed to talent and a culture of excellence. This is usually accomplished by identifying, retaining, and developing great people. For me, the difficult part of the process is accurately assessing character, integrity, and humility, but these are the most important factors for success. We like people with the potential to be leaders of leaders, not managers of managers.”
One way it does that is through the Level Up U initiative, which launched on July 18, 2022. The training program is the first of its kind. It’s funded through the $250 million investment that Activision Blizzard announced in October 2021 to establish opportunities for underrepresented communities in gaming and technology.
The purpose of the 12-week Level Up U course is to educate nonindustry professionals in conjunction with those currently working in the industry to create a more diverse, better-skilled pool of full-time game engineers and developers for the company. “Talent and diversity have always been critical to our success,” stated Kotick.
Bobby Kotick: Education Is an Asset to Entrepreneurs
Although Bobby Kotick left college to pursue his passion for the video game industry, he’s stressed the importance of getting a good education. “You know, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend [quitting college]. However, I think a great education is probably the most valuable thing you get, especially in America,” stated the CEO. “If you’re an entrepreneur — Warren Buffett and I have talked about this a lot — the only reliable predictor I’ve ever seen for future business success is how early and enthusiastic you are as an entrepreneur.”
Kotick continued, “I was always very entrepreneurial as a kid. And when I got to college, I continued my entrepreneurship by starting this software company. I didn’t get the benefit of the college experience. [However] two of my children have had extraordinary experiences at Duke [University] and Brown [University]. [They received] great educations [and] they are going to have successful careers. And so, I would definitely not dissuade someone from a great college education.”
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