Jamie Odell Plays To Win

Laid back and unassuming, you might never guess Jamie Odell holds the reigns at one of gaming’s most progressive companies, Aristocrat Leisure Limited. Until he starts talking about that company in a rich Australian accent, at which point his passion for and commitment to it are nothing short of obvious. He may be one of the most modest and easygoing executives to ever lead Aristocrat, but he will ultimately be remembered by the dedicated action plan he has devised to take the company to the next level. What Odell dubs the new “Play to Win” global growth strategy is about to take the company from a player in the worldwide gaming market to the player.

The plan is built around one major change: making the North American market its new focus for long-term growth. And with the constant growth in the U.S., the company has made a wise decision. But that’s not to say Aristocrat won’t focus its efforts in other areas of the world—it plans to also devote energy and resources in Australia and Japan. These three regions will be key to Aristocrat’s three-to-five-year strategic growth plan and Odell shares the details in this exclusive interview with Casino Rankings.

CR: You’ve recently unveiled a strategic three- to five-year plan to help right the course at Aristocrat. What are your plans for the North American market specifically?
 North America is, by far, our biggest market opportunity and focus, and we’re really looking forward to expanding our business here. We have a great business here, but until now, we’ve really continued to run a majority of the business out of Australia. That is about to change. We recognized that we needed to be more embedded in North America in an effort to support our North American President Nick Khin and our COO Seamus McGill, along with the rest of our North American team. We’ve moved a number of our key executives to our Las Vegas office, including our Chief Marketing Officer Paul Kitchin and our Chief Technology Officer Julius Patta.

We’re also going to focus more on game design content for North America. That not only means more studios but also a more focused game development practice to zero in on the needs of the American market. It’s really about targeting North America, being more focused on the market, and embedding key people into our U.S. office.

CR: Will Aristocrat target its R&D to the participation market, as do the three other key North American slot suppliers?
 Most definitely. Historically, Aristocrat hasn’t focused its game design efforts on this important market enough. We’ve recently launched Jaws®, and we’ve been absolutely delighted with the success we’re seeing from it. The product has been doing really well for us, and I think it highlights a key opportunity for us.

CR: How do you plan to increase Aristocrat’s participation floor share?
The only way to improve share is to deliver value to operators through high-performing games. It’s all about the game content and designing games that excite the players. That’s the only way we can do it, in my view. We’ve got to come up with more great winning games on the floor, and that’s what we’re determined to do.

CR: What are your plans to increase value for operators through your systems business, namely, your Oasis 360™ product?
 Initially, it’s all about investment. We’re very happy with our Oasis 360 system business in the U.S., and the team has done a fantastic job of building up a great customer base. But the fact is, like all systems businesses, it requires investment. We will invest significantly in the next three years to continue to build on the capabilities of our system to keep that success going. We’re committed to investing more time, energy and money into improving our system offerings to make it even more valuable for operators and players.

CR: What about your RFX™ stepper products? Will we continue to see Aristocrat invest heavily in R&D and licensing agreements for its North America stepper products?
 Absolutely. In hindsight, I think it was a wrong move that we pulled out of the stepper market a few years back. We recently re-entered the market with our RFX stepper products, but we still have a long way to go. The RFX is a stable platform, but we need to build more compelling game content for that segment, and that’s what we’re planning to do in order to build a new stepper business for North America.

CR: What kind of technologies are you going to use in your U.S.-specific game development efforts to add value to Aristocrat’s portfolio?
 A lot of industries are using technology to get to the next generation of products. Take, for example, the television industry. If you think about it, we’re still watching the same shows, but now we’re watching them on big plasma screens mounted to the wall with surround sound. And so, when I say leveraging technology, I’m talking about how we will leverage it to make better gaming products. What that new technology will be is yet to be determined. That’s why I’m excited to have our Chief Technology Officer, Julius Patta, in North America, because that area is going to be extremely important to us in our future in North America.

CR: Why is the North American market such an important part of your strategic growth plan?
It’s by far the world’s largest video gaming market. It’s an exciting place to be, and it’s a market where operators are open to new products and new ideas. Plus, with the continued expansion of gaming throughout North America, Nick Khin and the rest of our U.S. team have many more opportunities to grow our business and are looking at ways to take advantage of those opportunities.

CR: The second area of your strategic plan focuses on Australia. What are your goals for that market in the next five years?
 We are the dominant player in Australia, but the fact is, ship share has fallen below install base in recent years, and we’re determined to defend our install base to close that gap. Like I mentioned before regarding the U.S., what we need to do is develop more tailored game content for the Australian market. We previously had an approach to game content that was more about making games and then selling them to the world. But what we’ve found is that our Australian customers need more games that are suited to their specific needs. So, again, it will be about tailoring studios and games to make sure they deliver to the Australian market and investing in this market to ensure our customers get the best games from us.

CR: Your third core objective focuses on the Japanese market. What are your goals there?
 The Japanese market is extraordinarily volatile, but it’s also very attractive. It’s an enormous market, but we only play in the pachislot market. The issue has been that we are a public company that struggles to manage such volatile earnings. And during the years where we’ve had great licensed games out on the market, we do very well. And years where we don’t, we have poor results. That creates issues for our business there. What we’re declaring for that market is our long-term intent to produce compelling profitable licensed games for the pachislot market. That will take some time, and we have some licensed games already, but we need to acquire more. We also need to work more efficiently through the regulatory approval process in that market as well, which is something that ­­­­we’re looking at. But what we truly need to do is take the volatility out of the market by having stronger games and being more focused on those, as opposed to the ups and downs we’ve had in recent years.

CR: What are your plans for other worldwide markets like Macau and Eastern Europe?
Those will be very important as well. Macau’s a great opportunity, and we’re delighted with our business there. We also see opportunities in parts of Europe, especially in areas like France, Spain and Germany. And we have a great business in South Africa. But, previously, we’ve kind of treated the rest of the world with an “all things to all markets” approach. Going forward we will take a far more focused approach. We’re going to exit about 30 jurisdictions—areas where we truly don’t make much money, yet still distract the business. We’re going to pick the markets we want to compete in and be far more targeted and focused on them. That’s the approach for all of those markets, but there are some real gems in there, and you mentioned one with Macau.

CR: How do you plan to measure the results of this strategic plan?
 We have a very detailed execution plan. I’ve appointed a program office lead, which we’re calling business transformation. And from there, each of the initiatives that we’ve prepared over the last four months has a detailed execution plan as far as who does what when, how we measure results and how we ensure success. It’s going to be very hands-on. I’ll personally be leading it, along with the rest of the executive leadership team. Clearly, at the end of the day, although it will take some time, it will be measured through our success in the markets.

CR: Why is this strategic plan so important to Aristocrat now?
 Aristocrat needs new direction and new energy now more than ever. The company has achieved great things over the years, but in the last couple of years, it’s slowed down a bit. A lot of bsinesses just need to refresh and focus on the things they do well and elect strong leadership to make sure they deliver those things. We’re also in the middle of a global financial crisis that has impacted our results, as it has everyone else in the industry, which makes it a perfect time to sort out the business, clean it up, and make sure it has products for the future. It’s really the perfect time now for us to reset our path ahead.

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