Inside Asian Gaming speaks to Aristocrat’s recently promoted CEO Trevor Croker about his first few months in the top job and his plans for maintaining the slots giant’s winning momentum.
Inside Asian Gaming: You’ve been CEO for a little over four months now. How have you found the role so far and what have the greatest challenges been?
Trevor Croker: I’m thoroughly enjoying it. It’s a great privilege to interact with colleagues around the world and work with them on ways to better serve customers and help write the next chapter in Aristocrat’s story. The main challenge is ensuring that my time and the time of my team is directed towards Aristocrat’s biggest and risks, among the plethora of important issues a big business like ours has on the boil at any point in time. Finding the optimum balance for me has been an important lesson.
IAG: When Jamie Odell took over in 2008 his primary task was to turn the company around. You face a very different challenge in continuing Aristocrat’s resurgence. How do you approach a challenge like that?
TC: We are determined to avoid any sense of hubris and one of the best ways to do that is to keep talking to customers and find ways to serve them better. We also have the systems and processes internally that help keep us honest. We’re continuously finding and assessing to maintain our growth and we are disciplined about cost and culture. There are no magic tricks – it’s about knowing what drives value in our business and making sure we protect and maintain these attributes over time.
IAG: Did your role overseeing the Australian arm of the business prepare you for the global role?
TC: I’d say every role I’ve had has helped prepare me for the one I have today, but certainly I learned a lot as Managing Director of the ANZ business. I also learned a lot during my time overseeing the EMEA (Europe, Middle east and Africa) and Asia Pacific businesses, along with my global product strategy role and of course through my leadership of Aristocrat’s digital business. having been part of the team that’s executed our strategy over the last eight years, I’m fortunate to have a deep understanding of our business, customers and the challenges and we face.
In terms of the lessons I’ve learned, they key is to never forget the basics. Success is all about having a clear strategy, executing it well, motivating and engaging your people, staying close to customers and the market and solving all the many problems and issues that crop up along the way. I also know that progress is never permanent and competitors will never stop striving to take your business. So maintaining that humility and hunger is also something I come to the CEO role determined to do.
IAG: What are the main differences between running the ANZ business as opposed to this global responsibility?
TC: I’ve spoken about effective time management. There’s also the Aristocrat’s innovative baccarat slots machines have proved hugely successful on Asian gaming floors broader challenge of allocating total business resources optimally, which can include some di cult trade-o s that the CEO ultimately needs to settle. From a people and culture perspective, there’s definitely a higher level of accountability and involvement required as CEO, which I see as absolutely core to the role. I would say however that we have an outstanding leadership group at Aristocrat. Leadership isn’t just about one person, but comes from a broad team across the business and I certainly feel very well supported by my colleagues.
IAG: What is your focus for Aristocrat in the short term? Is it a case of ensuring current strengths are maintained or have you been actively looking at other expansion and partnerships?
TC: We have to do both – that is, protect and extend our core business and assess new strategic . We’ve said that we are focusing on an initial range of adjacent North American market in Class III stepper, VLT and Class II video, where we have growing capability but no or minimal current presence. It’s early days, but these initiatives are progressing well. We are also making very good progress in our multi-app digital strategy. We will continue to invest behind these .
We have the balance sheet strength and recurring revenue base to continue to look at M&A (mergers and acquisitions). We will continue to be proactive in uncovering and assessing potential in line with our strategy and shareholders’ interests.
IAG: Aristocrat is coming off some outstanding financial results and comfortably beat consensus in the six months to 31 March 2017 with shares responding by reaching record highs. Where does this put Aristocrat’s own revenue expectations for the next six to 12 months?
TC: We have always taken the approach that we focus on what we control. We’ve provided clear guidance to the market in terms of how we see our earnings performance for FY17 and we are comfortable with this position (In January Croker forecast 20 to 30% growth this year after Aristocrat posted net pro t of AU$398.2 million in FY16).
IAG: Taking a closer look at the Asian and Asia Pacific markets specifically, Aristocrat has traditionally been very strong in this region but recently we’ve seen the likes of IGT and other slot machine manufacturers and distributors state their intention to up the ante in Asia. What must Aristocrat do to maintain its current market share?
TC: Aristocrat is very much focused on the needs of specific markets, customers and players. We don’t make generic content or have a one-size fits all approach, which we have been doing for a number of years and are committed to doing into the future. So we very much think of ourselves as a local supplier in the Asia Pacific region. We have a significant presence on the ground across the region. We manufacture here in Macau and design games specifically for each Asian market to meet the needs of local customers and players.
The reality is that customers always have a choice and we don’t underestimate competitors. Our response is to continue to do the basics – that is, talk to our customers, understand their needs, invest in innovation, technology and content that performs and meets their expectations, and always strive to improve our business a little bit every day.
IAG: Which Asian markets do you consider to be your greatest strengths and where would you would like to see an increased focus?
TC: Our strength is market-leading game and cabinet performance from a broadening and deepening portfolio that is designed specifically for operators in Asia. That’s always been Aristocrat’s proposition in Asia and we’re working hard to make sure we can continue to deliver it.
We are proud of our performance in all countries in Asia that we supply product into. Macau has been a particular highlight given the level of expansion that has been experienced in recent years, but it’s worth mentioning the success the team has had with other markets too. Over the first half of the year our Asia Pacific business performance was strong and Aristocrat achieved market leading ship share results with the casino openings in the Philippines and Malaysia as well as solid normal business performance.
IAG: You mentioned the company’s record of producing targeted Asian themed titles and features that have struck a chord with Asian audiences. How do you ensure you maintain the attention of these players?
TC: It’s critical to continue to produce games and products that players enjoy and customers support. That will always be the case. how we do it is again through being in those markets, spending time talking to customers, understanding what players enjoy and investing behind tailored regional portfolios that strive to meet those needs better than our competitors.
IAG: There has been a lot of talk recently about Japan and the that an IR industry there will bring. It has also been noted that EGMs will likely play a far greater role in Japan than in other Asian jurisdictions. How important do you see the Japanese market becoming to Aristocrat once IRs become a reality?
TC: The Japanese government has announced its intention to open a limited number of new casinos in major cities in Japan but it is very much early days and Aristocrat, along with a number of other major gaming equipment suppliers and casino operators, continues to be involved in discussions.
We will look to keep the market updated as this process evolves. The media has so far referenced one to two casinos following an Integrated Resort model such as those in Singapore. Speculation is that this will include Class III machines. It is likely that the company will