Arkadium has been a family-run company for more than two decades. It still is, but now it is embarking on a new leadership transition.
Kenny Rosenblatt, cofounder and president of Arkadium, will take over as CEO of the maker of casual games for grown-ups from his wife and cofounder, Jessica Rovello.
Rovello will become executive chairwoman of the New York company, which the husband-and-wife team created in 2001. She will oversee quarterly board meetings but also consider work outside of Arkadium, Rosenblatt said in an interview with GamesBeat.
It’s a big change.
“We have always been together, as a family and at work,” Rosenblatt said. “We worked side-by-side at our desks for over 20 years.”
This is not the first time that the duo have changed the top job. Seven years ago, Rovello became CEO while Rosenblatt became president, reversing a management order that had been in place since the founding of the company.
Her tenure took place during a turbulent time, and geopolitics played a big role. In the spring of 2014, as the crisis in Ukraine turned into civil war, the Russian Federation invaded the Crimean peninsula, a region of Ukraine, and annexed it as part of Russia. Arkadium happened to have its biggest game studio — a seasoned mobile-game development crew of more than 100 people — in Simferopol, Crimea. Overnight, it became a Russian territory, with armed occupiers knocking on doors and verifying identities.
Rovello and Rosenblatt had to work out what to do. Two-thirds of the company’s employees were in the occupied territory.
At the end of 2014, the Obama administration declared sanctions, making it a crime for U.S. companies to do business in Crimea. Rovello found that her studio was now an illegal business. Instead of shutting it down, she and Rosenblatt asked the employees what they wanted. About half of them decided to continue working, and they wanted to be part of Russia. So they relocated the studio across the Russian border, near Sochi, and reopened in a place where they weren’t subject to sanctions.
But only about half of them went. So Rovello had to decide what Arkadium would focus on, now that it had only half of the developers that it had before. She decided to exit the company’s mobile-gaming business. Instead, Arkadium focused on its core web business, which provides light casual games for websites such as newspapers and portals. It was an emotional ordeal, but Arkadium survived it.
At that time, Rovello did much of the work to resolve the situation, and the pair changed job titles to reflect that. The company survived. During her tenure in the role, Arkadium’s revenue and profits grew steadily year over year; the company earned numerous best workplace awards, was named a Forbes Small Giant, and was featured on the cover of Inc Magazine. Rovello also presided over a buyback of the company’s shares from its VC investors.
Then Russia invaded Ukraine a year ago, and the company’s Russian division was once again hit with sanctions. This time, the company helped a lot of its employees move out of Russia. It opened a large office in Lisbon, Portugal, and relocated a lot of workers there. Only a couple were left in Russia, and eventually it shut down the Russian studio altogether. Now the company is operating remotely.
“The most selfless act an entrepreneur can make is to intentionally leave the company they founded in order to give others opportunities to grow,” said Rosenblatt. “Jess led us through two wars, a pandemic, and upheaval in our industry, and still leaves Arkadium in the strongest position it has ever been in, both financially and strategically. The leadership team, along with the systems and processes she put in place, will help Arkadium to flourish for years, if not decades, to come.”
“I’m so honored to have worked with Arkadians from all over the world for these past 20+ years, first as its cofounder and then as CEO. Working for any company, but particularly a games company should be fun. Despite all of the challenges the world tossed at us, I had a great time,” said Rovello, in a statement. “And I could not be more excited to watch Kenny, the executive team, and the whole organization reach great new heights as it embarks on this next chapter.”
Rovello and Rosenblatt started Arkadium in 2001 when both were 26 years old. The duo, who have with three children, are a true anomaly in the games industry – which is known for its stressful work environments, hit-driven business models, and male dominated-work cultures.
“I can count on one hand the number of female CEOs who founded a gaming company, grew it to more than $100 Million in enterprise value, generated tremendous profits, and made it last for more than 20 years. Jess is truly a one-in-a-billion entrepreneur,” said Rosenblatt.
This will be Rosenblatt’s second run as CEO of Arkadium, and he said he is looking forward to running it on his own for a change. Rosenblatt held the role from 2001 to 2015. He said his wife did an amazing job running the company and he believes she will eventually be ready to do greater things.
Moving forward, Arkadium will continue to focus on the grown-up gamer and develop games that retain and delight their unique audience. The company operates games on Arkadium.com as well as on iOS, Android, and websites of world’s biggest publishers and brands – including USA Today, AARP, The Washington Post, and MSN.