Riding the wave – Given his father Bruce is considered a legend of the gaming industry following a career spanning more than three decades with Harrah’s, GTECH and Bally, it comes as no surprise to find Christopher Rowe making similar strides with leading slot machine manufacturer Aristocrat. Having previously spent time working in Las Vegas and Sydney, Rowe moved to Macau last year to take up the role of Sales & Business Development Director – Asia Pacific. He spoke to IAG’s Ben Blaschke about his journey.
IAG: Thanks for taking some time out to chat with us Christopher, can you tell us a bit about your early years and your memories from before you entered the gaming industry?
Christopher Rowe: It’s funny – you say before the industry but there really was no before the industry. I was born in Atlantic City, New Jersey and my father was with Harrah’s casino at the time. We basically followed Harrah’s. We went from Atlantic City to Memphis, Tennessee where the company’s former headquarters were located then to Las Vegas. I spent my last couple of years in high school in Las Vegas. I had some fun jobs at that point – I was a life guard on the Strip, I worked at a Country Club and then I transitioned into the suppliers’ side of the gaming industry.
IAG: Would it be fair to say then that you were always destined to work in the industry?
CR:I’d like to think I could have changed that but if you believe in fate, that’s probably the case. My father started off as Director of Entertainment looking after computers in Atlantic City. Then he made a rather unnatural transition into IT and ran IT at the property level and then for corporate. From IT, well computers are a lot like slot machines so the company said, “Maybe you should take a run at slot machines.” So he started to look after slot machines at the corporate level for Harrah’s across more than 20 properties.
IAG: How did you end up working with Aristocrat?
CR: It’s actually a really funny story. As I mentioned, I was working in a Country Club and got to know some of the members there. A member who happened to work with Aristocrat was one of the guys I was close to and he also knew my father. I was away at school at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City and was looking for an internship. It so happened that this member of the Country Club was sitting at a table with my father at a mutual friend’s wedding. He said to my Dad, “Hey Bruce, long time no see. What’s Chris doing this summer? Is he going to come visit us at the Country club?”
My Dad said, “You know I think he’s actually looking for an internship” and the guy said, “Tell him to stop looking and come work for me.” So I took my first internship with Aristocrat in 2004. I did a summer study program – three months at Aristocrat – then went back to Uni. I did another three months at Aristocrat in 2005 and then started full-time on their graduate program in 2006.
That was an unbelievable program and at the end of the program Aristocrat sent me to Sydney, Australia as a graduate exchange student and I got to spend some time with Global Marketing at corporate headquarters in Sydney. It was a great experience and really paved the way for where I am today.
IAG: So how did the move to Macau come about?
CR: Macau is probably a place I never imagined myself, my family or my career but what an amazing opportunity. I spent quite a long time in product development and it was at G2E a couple of years ago when I was sitting on the stand and looking at this great product that we were producing. I didn’t have a single meeting on my calendar to present that product to customers and I was watching the sales team get fired up about this product. We had just launched the Helix cabinet which is our flagship upright, high definition monitors and these guys were just fired up about presenting it. I though to myself, “I should be out there selling this stuff.”
I was looking for an opportunity on the commercial side and had formed a relationship with a guy called Vincent Kelly who was then a consultant overhauling our outbound sales process and is now our Managing Director. He needed some help here in Macau and I saw it as a great opportunity to jump to the commercial side.
IAG: How did your wife feel about such a big move at the time?
CR: We were actually entertaining a role in Sydney at the time which prepped us for the expat journey. We were about to have a daughter – my wife was three months pregnant and had to get her head around moving internationally so Sydney seemed an easy transition. We had great friends there. That kind of softened us up – then China came along. We thought we were going to Sydney, then I came home one day and said, “How do you feel about Macau?”
IAG: Macau must have come as somewhat of a culture shock for both of you?
CR: It was different. We were prepared. We knew we would be faced with language barriers and different food so there were definitely some elements of that. It was clearly different to our life back home. But Iwill say that the transition was very smooth. I have to give a lot of credit to Aristocrat and our HR staff for really easing that transition. I turned up on Day 1 and I had keys to my car, my name on an office and an apartment. Those things make it a lot easier and more comfortable. We had our little family unit, a safe place to live and from there we started to venture out and explore. We really took it as an adventure and that starting point made all the difference. To walk into a comfortable situation and then explore a new environment and learn some new ways plus a bit of the language has been fun.
IAG: What would you say has been the biggest challenge in coming to Macau?
CR: It’s going to be hard to find a negative. I’ve enjoyed every minute of this journey. This market is fascinating and I feel very fortunate to be working in a growth market. You’d be well aware that a number of markets around the world are flat – maybe through regulation or imposed machine caps or saturation – but Asia has a long way to go and we’re really just at the beginning of this journey.
It is a different market and there was a lot to learn. We had to get to know the product which is specific and slightly nuanced, but not so much in the titles. We do produce a number of titles specific to the market and those happen to translate well around the world given the globalization of Asia. But then there is the specific development required for these markets around denominations, around jackpot profiles, around technical standards that need to be met.
Perhaps the most enlightening element for me was learning that Asia isn’t just Macau and the markets within Asia are very different. Again, I won’t call it a challenge – it’s an opportunity for myself and for Aristocrat to get to know the nuances of those various markets. To understand the differences between a slot machine in Macau and a slot machine in the Philippines and in Vietnam versus Cambodia.
IAG: You mentioned the food in Macau, which is very good and quite diverse. Do you have a favorite restaurant?
CR: Too many. Every week we find a new one and that’s the joy of this place – the food is fantastic. This is a foodie town. We love to get off the beaten track a little bit and hang out in the old bits of town. We really enjoy Portuguese food and for us to pick a favorite Portuguese restaurant would be impossible, but you’ll find us down by the beaches, in Old Taipa in some restaurants we like there and again on the Macau side. It’s hard to keep us out of some Dim Sum shops and they are constantly opening. What we see over at Broadway is fantastic.
I’m a big fan of North (at the Venetian) – that was the first place I ever ate in Macau, the first place I ever ate here with my wife and the first place we ate when we moved here. With the little one we spend a lot of time at the panda park. The coffee culture is also emerging in Macau so we’ve found some great little coffee shops.
AG: Finally, given all that’s happened over the past few years, where do you see yourself in five years’ time?
CR: Good question. I never would have pictured myself in Asia but it’s great because Aristocrat is such a global company and there is so much opportunity. The fact that we’ve diversified into other businesses in the digital state is fascinating. People are my favorite part of business so to work with such a good team … I’m fortunate to have that. I’m learning so much now so I hope to continue that journey. If that happens to be here great, but if it is some unknown future project with Aristocrat that’s great too. New challenge, good people, anywhere in the world. I have no idea.