When Radical Entertainment co-founder and president Ian Wilkinson first approached Kelly Zmak about joining the Vancouver video-game company as a key executive more than a year ago, the two men talked about Zmak eventually succeeding Wilkinson as head of the company.
That move occurred Wednesday, as Wilkinson resigned his post and Zmak, hired one year ago as chief operating officer and senior vice-president of product development, took over as company president.
"I told Kelly that this job would probably be his in two years, and it just happened sooner than that," says Wilkinson, whose contract with Vivendi Universal, which owns Radical Entertainment, was supposed to run until March 2007. Wilkinson got an early release from the contract.
"I've had a lot of time to think about this," says Wilkinson, who had been trying to groom a successor within Radical for two years before going outside the company to hire Zmak. "I kept thinking I was ready to walk away, but you're never fully ready.
"The company's in great shape, and it has a great leadership team. It's on a real roll in that the last six or eight [games] have sold millions of copies. This is the right time for me to move on."
Wilkinson and Rory Armes, who now works for Electronic Arts, co-founded Radical in 1991. Wilkinson sold the company to Vivendi Universal in March of 2005 for an undisclosed price, but remained as president. Four months later, he hired Zmak as COO.
Zmak, 43, says there won't be any structural changes at Radical, and feels he'll be able to wear multiple corporate hats with help from his colleagues.
"I've got a great team, and as I take on more from the one side I'll delegate to the team on the other side, " says Zmak. "The team's been prepared for this transition for some time."
Zmak says that Wilkinson broached the subject of his future as president from their first meeting.
"That was discussed early on," says Zmak. "This is an operation that has been very successful under [Wilkinson's] leadership. The key was to have a succession plan that would continue to foster the same great culture and core values that existed here."
Radical's next big game is Scarface, due out this year. Zmak says there are four other major games in development, to be released between 2007 and 2010. He foresees "intelligent growth" at the company, which will be hiring more people, particularly next year and in 2008. Zmak reiterated an earlier statement that he'd like Radical to go beyond games built for consoles, including online and mobile entertainment, comics, television and DVDs.
The shift in power at Radical is unusual, according to the Conference Board of Canada. On Wednesday, the board released a survey of 166 Canadian organizations that found that more than half of their senior executives will be eligible to retire within the next five years, and that only half of the companies had a designated person ready or nearly ready to step into these positions.
Wilkinson, 47, plans to spend the summer with his wife and two sons, travel to the B.C. Interior where the family is building a cottage, and play a lot of golf.
"I'll probably try to figure out in the fall what I'm going to do," states Wilkinson, who says he has no firm career plans.