In casino terms, Aristocrat Leisure Limited was down to the felt back in 2009. Although it had the distinction of being one of the largest slot machine manufacturers in the world—known for its iconic Queen of the Nile slot machine and other games—it had just posted an annual loss of $157.8 million. And that came after a $101.2 million profit for the Australia-based company just one year earlier.
A new CEO, Jamie Odell, took on with the huge task of reversing Aristocrat’s luck. Jamie’s five-year turnaround strategy aimed to grow market share. This focused in the high-value participation gaming segment in the United States by developing compelling game content. It also focused on technology tailored to local market needs.
It was an enormous undertaking, but the hard work paid off. On the cusp of Odell’s retirement in early 2017, Aristocrat boasted a 62 percent increase in annual profit. This represented the company’s eleventh consecutive period of reported profit growth.
But Aristocrat’s success relies on much more than an “out with the old and in with the new” perspective. The business invested significantly in innovation and moved into new markets and segments, including CII tribal and social mobile gaming. However, it has not lost focus on its core gambling offer and the attributes that have made Aristocrat games enduring favorites.
The combination of what’s novel and what has stood the test of time applies to the company culture, too. In the wake of Aristocrat’s recent success and highly effective turnaround strategy, Sync checked in with three different employees from three different departments. Marta Patlan, HR manager; Linda Norcross, assistant general counsel; and Max Skaare, vice president, technology services discuss what feels different and what has stayed the same over the course of the journey.
What’s the company culture like at Aristocrat Leisure Limited?
Marta Patlan: The culture is fluid and ever-evolving. However, there are some core pieces of the culture that have not changed. These are our purpose (to create the world’s greatest gaming experience every day), values (respect, integrity, courage, passion), and our Winning Ways Behaviors (unite, develop, deliver, play). These cornerstones of our culture connect us on a human level in simple ways. They are raw and pure and allow us to capitalize on being tried-and-true anchors.
Linda Norcross: There’s a healthy mix of personal and professional camaraderie here that you don’t often see in global organizations. There’s a focus on improving communication and recruiting and retaining the best people. There’s also a continued emphasis on staying humble and hungry as opposed to resting on our laurels.
“It is important to remember history and remain humble in our business. It has taught us that you earn your place in this business and you have to continue to prove yourself daily.”
How do you give employees agency?
Patlan: Aristocrat is giving employees a platform to be cultural architects. Aristocrat sponsors various on- and off-site events to continually asking employees their opinion on all things Aristocrat. The company is reminding us that we play a daily role in shaping the culture. Formal annual employee surveys became yearlong action plans. There are now town hall forums and chalkboard walls in our buildings. All employees have the opportunity to express themselves and have a chance to be heard.
Max Skaare: I am particularly proud of two opportunities our employees have passion for. The first is our community service program. July is All-In Global Volunteer Month across Aristocrat. The second is Leadership Circles. These circles are teams of employees that gather through sponsorship to create a thinking forum on building personal skills and leadership effectiveness. They are independent and spun up by employees. This is just one example of a grassroots initiative that’s taken off at Aristocrat.
Norcross: We have kicked off several other exciting initiatives, too, including speed-mentoring events and after-hours jam sessions, where employees can showcase their performance skills while enjoying each other’s company.
What have you seen come from the five-year turnaround strategy?
Patlan: After about a year and a half of working at Aristocrat, I realized that my experience as an employee of this company is dependent on how much work I want to put into shaping it. I’m allowed to drive my career and connect to the culture and strategy, with a plethora of resources at my fingertips.
Skaare: We have learned a lot. It is important to remember history and remain humble in our business. It has taught us that you earn your place in this business and you have to continue to prove yourself daily. Continue to evolve your own development and pay attention to the little things. It matters.
How is workplace technology evolving at the company?
Skaare: Significant investments are occurring throughout our business. We see technology as something that can enable our employee success. We have deployed mobile learning and made a vast library of industry curriculum and internal courses available to our employees. It’s no longer just classrooms and traditional methods, but on demand, when you want and how you want it. Another new element is our service technicians using their smartphones and tablets managing service. Our challenge is to make sure they have access to all the information they need to provide the best service to our customers.
What does the future look like for Aristocrat?
Skaare: We are excited about the investment we are making into our new building in Las Vegas in late 2018. We are bringing together three locations to a purpose-built campus environment—which includes the latest technology and focuses on making sure we can do our best work here at Aristocrat. It will be a very fluid, alive, and high-energy work environment.