Driving Innovation: Randy Hedrick

From Macau to Moscow, Randy Hedrick has literally sped through the world of gaming. He’s witnessed the inner workings of Russia’s most notorious casinos, played pokies with the locals in Australia, sat down with the whales in Macau, sojourned with Die Deutsche, and pulled up a seat next to tourists in Sin City. Throughout his 25-plus years in gaming, Hedrick has almost seen it all—until recently.

While Hedrick has spent much of the last three decades working for slot manufacturing giant IGT, which allowed him the opportunity to travel much of the world, he now heads up his own Reno-based game design studio, Aurora Design Inc. (ADI). And he says none of his travels combined could have prepared him for starting his own company. At IGT, Hedrick held multiple roles in the research, design and development of the company’s gaming equipment (including the award-winning REELdepth products). But now as president and CEO of ADI, Hedrick does it all, from writing proposals and designing products to recruiting investors and selling his wares—plus billing and hiring, to boot.

Dedicated to offering world-class products, applications and research-based innovations to key partners, Hedrick formed ADI with the goal of challenging and changing our industry, and he has lots in store for us in the coming year. CEM sat down with Hedrick shortly after he formed ADI.Hedrick racing his Monte Carlo SS, which is now a Chevy Impala SS.

Casino Rankings
: Describe a typical day for you at ADI.
Randy Hedrick: There’s really no such thing as a typical day for me at ADI. One day we’re writing business proposals, one day we’re selling, the next day we’re literally designing a game or writing a contract. So really, it changes every day.

CR: What’s your favorite part of that process?

RH: Well, for me it’s definitely not the selling (laughs). I’d have to say the creative and design jobs are the most fun.

CR: I bet that’s what most people would say… 

RH: Well, you probably wouldn’t get many accountants to say that.

CR: Yeah, that’s probably true.
RH: I’d have to say that the numbers and math behind the game design are kind of fun, too. It’s like trying to solve a puzzle, you know—a double-sided, 3-D puzzle. You try to bring a whole slew of different elements together and make them all work harmoniously. You’ve got the technology behind it, you’ve got the math, you’ve got the art, and you’re trying to put them together in a way that someone who’s never seen it before can walk up to and figure out and enjoy without an instruction manual.

CR: It hasn’t even been six months since you formed ADI, correct?
RH: Right.

CR: When did you leave IGT?
RH: I believe it was March 6.

CR: So, literally, you started ADI right after you left IGT?
RH: Yep. There was no time to even sit down and breathe. But I knew this was what I wanted to do, so I immediately developed a business plan and brought in some top-notch people to work with me. IGT really didn’t want me to go, but I was ready for a new challenge.

CR: That must have been a difficult choice considering the tough economy.
RH: Yeah, but I looked at it as a great opportunity because good ideas have a chance to stand out right now. When things are going well, people will buy just about anything. But now that everything is really tight, people really have to think through what they’re going to buy, what they’re not going to buy, and what purchases make the most sense. If you do come up with a product that solves fundamental problems or drives revenue, you have a good opportunity to really stand out in a crowd. We look at it like that and have confidence that we can succeed. And so far, we’re doing OK. A lot of our ideas have been accepted … But, you know, that’s not to say we’re out of the woods yet.

CR: Can you share some of the challenges you faced while developing ADI? 
RH: We definitely had our fair share, but I’d have to say the biggest challenge was securing the funding. It came through literally at the last hour and turned out to be less than was initially discussed. But it was also extremely tough to leave behind so many great people at IGT. But we’ll just have to see where it goes.

CR: Well, I wish you nothing but the best. 
RH: Thanks. We’re certainly working hard. Until last weekend, we’d pretty much been working seven days a week.

CR: Do you have a family too?

RH: I sure do.

CR: I bet they miss you just a little bit then.
RH: Well, I’ve always been a workaholic, so I think they’re used to it. I think they miss the big checks though. The boss here doesn’t pay me very well (chuckles).

CR: You should really have a talk with him. 
RH: Yeah, as a boss, he’s tough. I can’t get a raise. Sometimes I don’t get even paid at all.

CR: I think anybody starting a business experiences much of the same.
RH: Definitely. But the learning part is amazing. You know, I had no idea how well I could write proposals before I started this company.

CR: Speaking of writing proposals, are you working on any ad copy for ADI? 
RH: Not really. We’re trying to work with key suppliers that can help us get our name and products out, but for the most part, we’re telling them they can brand the products as their own. In fact, you won’t see our name on some products at all. If our partners like our ideas and want to call them their own, we’re fine with that. We just want to help the people that took a chance on us and signed up.

CR: You have seven people on staff, all of whom came from IGT. Sounds like you have a lot of industry experience inside your company.
RH: We certainly do, but it’s still a diverse group. We have some with industry experience, some with research experience, some with incredible university experience, some with impressive engineering talents, and some with excellent data and software experience.

CR: With so much industry experience yourself, what are you most proud of accomplishing? 

RH: Besides starting ADI, I’d actually have to say the work I did with the Gaming Standards Association (GSA). I was very active in bringing IGT back into the group and sat on the board. The work GSA is doing is critical to the ongoing success of our industry. I’m hoping it turns out the way we all envision it.

CR: You’ve said that challenges are huge motivators for you, but where does your inspiration for creating and designing new products come from? 
RH: Oh, they’re all over the place.

CR: An example?
RH: Basically, my inspiration is—you know I hate to say it, but it comes back to winning and solving problems. One thing that people don’t know about me is I race cars.

CR: Really? What kind of cars?
RH: NASCAR stock cars. I’m totally into auto racing and love NASCAR and Formula 1. In fact, I love anything where people are going fast and putting things at risk. But, you know, the one thing about racing is that second place is a loser, right? You have to be fully prepared if you want to win. You know they always say, “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” At ADI, our motivation is being prepared to solve problems.

For example, there’s more science involved in gaming than people think. And that’s actually why I think WMS excels as a game developer, because they seem to know that the psychology of a gamer is extremely important. And I totally agree, because I’ve seen how an art change on a game with the same math model as another can increase win per unit. When you apply science to even the most basic elements of slot design, great things can happen. At ADI, our motivation is to try and gain a deeper understanding of players and eliminate as much guesswork as possible. One of our philosophies is no guessing; we try to understand every aspect of our business as well as we possibly can in order to make the right decisions.

CR: But doesn’t it take more time and effort to attack game design that way? 
RH: It sure does, but it makes an incredible difference to the end product. If you go on the WMS website, you know they focus group every game. They do all of these things. And while we don’t believe that necessarily tells you everything you need to know about a game, it does tell you where players may be confused. There are things that people just don’t inherently understand on some machines, like how to play, why buttons are located where they are, and why certain information is in a certain place. Now does that make the game automatically a winning game? No, but it gives it a much better chance. Those are the kinds of things that we hope to do.

CR: It sounds like you’d like to work with WMS at some point? Or am I putting words in your mouth?

RH: We’re open to working with whoever’s the best. Right now our partnership philosophy is to work with the current leaders, whether it be IGT, JCM or anybody else. Our goal is to work with the winning team. And right now, we’re working with a bunch of different winning teams.

Drive-By Facts about Randy Hedrick
• On the off chance that workaholic Hedrick isn’t at ADI finishing his latest proposal, you might see him on one of Northern California’s local racetracks: “My street cars are Porches, but my race car is a Chevy Impala. The SS. It’s black and the ADI logo is emblazed on it.”
• Hedrick is all about winning, and when it comes to racing cars, he’s definitely won his fair share of races, a track championship and a driver of the year award: “I won my first race in a full-size car when I was 14 years old, but eventually money ran out and school called.”
• Hedrick’s favorite NASCAR driver is Mark Martin: “I met him once when I was younger, and he offered me a job because he saw the car I had built. I’ve followed him ever since, and now he’s the oldest guy winning on the circuit.”
• Surprisingly, growing up in a two-bedroom house with seven siblings wasn’t a big deal for Hedrick: “As long as I had something to play with, I didn’t care that I was sharing a room with two of my brothers and four of my sisters.”
• The name Aurora Design Inc. was inspired by the Roman goddess of dawn, Aurora. “To us ADI means new ideas and a new day dawning. Plus, it starts with an ‘A’ so in searches it comes up sooner.”

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