Bet Like A Lady

Emily Leeb: “We want a safe environment for young women to grow their careers”

This week, we sat down with Emily Haruko Leeb, whose journey from troubled teen to successful executive and life coach is truly inspiring. She founded a direct sales company at 19 and now transforms corporate cultures, balancing family and passion. Discover how Emily's resilience and entrepreneurial spirit drive change in tech and iGaming.

About: Emily Haruko Leeb, a seasoned executive, life and leadership coach has over a decade of experience in the world of corporate transformation. She started her remarkable journey of serial entrepreneurship at age 19 when she founded her own direct sales company, she then moved into advertising, followed by a career in media production management in igaming.

As a devoted single mom of two plus a yorkie, Emily’s life is a balance of love, family, and passion. She finds solace in yoga, draws inspiration from the ocean, and nurtures a thriving indoor jungle of house plants.

Emily is renowned for her coaching prowess, known to bring out the best in individuals and teams. Her passion for organizational change and optimizing working culture fuels her mission to help talent flourish into genius within the business arena. Emily is a true leader, igniting transformation within the tech, igaming and medical industries.

What inspired you to transition from founding your own direct sales company to pursuing a career in advertising and media production management in iGaming?

Emily: Truth be told, I never did very well in conventional academic education, so when I had immediate monetary success working in direct sales after doing only a semester in post-secondary education, I knew I would create a successful career without furthering my education in a traditional sense. Funny thing is, I love to learn. I was just never in an environment where my kinesthetic and photographic learning styles were accommodated. I began the journey, of what I call, a personal growth junkie and dove deep into learning about ontology (the study of being) and transformational leadership. 

To better understand my personal journey, we should back up a bit. As a troubled teenager, largely due to the systemic education system that didn’t really accommodate neuro-diverse learners, like myself. I somehow convinced my parents to let me go to San Miguel de Allende, Mexico by myself at the ripe age of 16 years old with two years left in my secondary education. Here I embraced alternative forms of education including black room photography, silversmithing, yoga, Spanish and other various artforms while taking on traditional education like maths, science and english through a homeschooling program. This experience allowed me and conditioned me at a very young age to practice alternative perspectives and be open to multiple possibilities whenever trying to find a solution to a given problem.

After incorporating my first business at the ripe age of 19, I ran a team of sales people and represented various clients with moderate success. 3 years in, I had no financial management training and the cost of running an office and paying employees in downtown Toronto began to take its toll.  So at the age of 21, I shut the business down and started an entry-level position in advertising and marketing. Over the course of 4 years I received promotion after promotion and was once again experiencing some moderate success as an account executive in this field. 

My personal life stabilized and the signs of that troubled teen were now long behind me as I built my professional career. And then I fell in love with a professional ice hockey player…and love will make you do some wild and crazy things sometimes. 

One of those crazy things being that when my professional ice hockey playing boyfriend invited me to come live with him in Germany as he furthered his career, I quit my job in advertising and followed my heart across the Atlantic to Germany.

After settling in for a few months, I found myself a little lost as I was only on a spousal visa and wasn’t able to work. I have always been very driven and ambitious as I’d had a steady job ever since I was 14 years old and was an avid babysitter and gardener (weeding my neighbours yards) even before that.

As I put feelers out to my network on opportunities that might be available for me to work overseas, I got an invitation from my cousin, Fawn Labrie, to join the startup team that was putting together the former igaming news outlet, CalvinAyre.com. I was vaguely familiar with the igaming industry but really had no idea what I was in for. After my first ICE/LAC in 2010 I went home and slept for 24 straight hours!

I worked in iGaming from 2009-2013, after having my first child and finding out I was pregnant with my second, I left the industry. I further pursued that passion of ‘personal growth junkie’ and did my executive coach training. It was in that training I discovered my true calling. I’ve been coaching ever since and in 2023 I co-founded Saroca. Today we bring transformational leadership and development programs to the igaming, gaming, tech and medical industries.

We provide custom programs for organizations and individuals and recently launched our 2024 LeadHERship Program for women in gaming and our Executive Series that launches in October 2024 for senior execs (both women and men) in the gaming industry. I must say, after a decade hiatus of working directly in the industry, it’s good to be back.

What are your top recommendations for individuals aspiring to pursue a career in the iGaming industry?

Emily: Be agile, be open-minded, be willing to learn and be a team player. The igaming industry, like anything in the tech space, is so rapidly changing. Get a good support network around you and have a growth mindset. Setbacks and challenges are a part of the game, so do like the saying does and ‘fail fast’. Learn from your mistakes, learn from others and remember that every setback is a learning opportunity. Genius and innovation are cultivated over time so have patience with yourself but work hard. 

What is one book that every woman in the gambling industry should read?

Emily: Oh my gosh, just one? There are so many, but if I had to choose just one it would be The Big Leap by Gay Hendricks. This book is truly a game-changer. It supports you to distinguish your zones of flow, how you work and what level of challenge you’ll need to tap into our own unique zone of genius. It teaches you about your upper limit pattern and ways you may stop yourself or even unconsciously sabotage yourself in the face of new, great things happening. 

What do you think is missing in the Igaming and sports betting industry today? Where do you see the biggest gaps?

Emily: Honestly? More women in senior leadership roles. I had the distinct pleasure of coaching Kelly Kehn as she was birthing the idea for the All-In Diversity project back in 2007-2008. To see what she and Christina have created over the last 8 years is truly phenomenal. The All-Index reports on the equity and gender gaps at the most senior levels of business, in addition to a whole lot of other pertinent facts that if addressed will propel our industry forward to greater heights. I would love to see the industry and all organizations strive for greater equity and representation at the highest levels. 

What is your betting style? Do you have a strategy that you follow? And what betting tips do you have for those who are starting out?

Emily: Honestly, I’m not a big bettor. I don’t believe I have ever placed a bet online in my life. I will dabble in land-based betting, mostly roulette, black jack and maybe some slots. My strategy goes like this:

  1. Set a budget.
  2. Use cash.
  3. Wear an outfit with pockets.
  4. Put the betting budget in the left pocket.
  5. Put all the profits in the right pocket.
  6. When the left pocket is empty, leave the casino.

Looking ahead, what excites you the most about the future of sports betting and Igaming?

Emily: The innovation! Watching organizations like BeyondPlay and founder, Karolina Pelc as a perfect example. It’s so exciting to watch innovation unfold and be brought to fruition. To see disruptors in the industry being creative and innovative is incredibly inspiring and exciting to me. 

What do women want (in sports betting and/or Igaming)?

Emily: We want equitable representation based on merit and talent, not based on our gender. We want a seat at the table and for our voices to be heard. We want a safe environment for young women to grow their careers and to be ushered into an industry that is safe, welcoming, creative and cutting edge. Recently I was at CasinoBeats and attended the Breaking Bias session where women anonymously submitted their stories of what it’s like to be a woman in our industry. The stories were absolutely appalling and should be shared far and wide. Women want allies in the industry, especially the young women who want to take advantage of all the opportunities our industry has to offer but want to and have the right to feel safe while they’re doing it.

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