Inside Asian Gaming sits down with Lloyd Robson, General Manager – APAC for Aristocrat, to discuss his ascension to the leadership role and navigating the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ben Blaschke: Congratulations on the new role, Lloyd. How have you found the transition, and what are the main changes for you?
Lloyd Robson: It has been an incredibly interesting time to assume the APAC leadership role, one I feel very humbled and privileged to take on, having been provided the opportunity by Aristocrat. Transitioning from Sales Director to General Manager has come with greater responsibility and lateral decision making, such as more involvement with our product portfolio, production considerations and entities in our regulatory space, such as DICJ and PAGCOR, just to name a few.
One of Aristocrat’s great strengths is succession planning and providing individuals the opportunity to grow and develop, and I have to personally thank Chris Rowe and the Aristocrat executives for providing me capacity to learn and experience these business facets while I was in my former role, which has fast tracked the transition. This forward thinking and planning also enabled us to promote Paul White from our sales team to the role of Sales Director.
BB: What are you looking to accomplish as leader of the Aristocrat Asia-Pacific team?
LR: I am fortunate that our team has an amazing culture, and this has been developed and enhanced over the last three to five years particularly – I am certainly not looking to tinker with that! I am laser focused on providing opportunities for our team to become further connected into the communities in which we operate. For example we are having strong success with our Macau local graduate program, and we would love to expand this further into the Philippines.
Beyond our team, clearly a goal now is navigating the COVID-19 era. I am super excited by the opportunity this presents both personally and professionally, as I am convinced this will create opportunity and accelerate trends for our industry. I am also very keen to identify initiatives that can deepen our relationships with the APAC customers, because without our customers, we simply don’t exist.
BB: You’ve certainly taken on the role at an interesting time. What challenges has COVID-19 presented for Aristocrat?
LR: That’s right, it’s been a very interesting and challenging time not just for Aristocrat, but the entire industry. Key challenges have included our people, our customers and our business momentum. From a people perspective, the focus was on the health and wellbeing of our staff, to ensure we followed government guidelines on sanitation and workplace practices. We have staff in more than five countries throughout APAC so staying informed and proactive to each market dynamic has been challenging.
Staying close with our customers has been really important, and utilizing technology such as ZOOM we have been able to remain focused on ensuring high touch-point initiatives with our customers so they have all the support they can possibly receive from Aristocrat. We had fantastic business momentum in APAC leading into the pandemic, with our product portfolio rock solid and sales activity extremely robust. Naturally, sales have softened in the last six weeks, but we have remained 150% committed to our product development.
BB: What impact has COVID-19 had on the Aristocrat team as a whole?
LR: I have to say our team is resilient, and I would suggest the broader Asian continent is pretty resilient when it comes to these types of disruptions. The impacts were largely on safety and wellbeing and staying connected with each other. For example, the first day our staff returned to the office environment was like watching kids in the playground, the excitement to be back and having the human interaction was amazing, all whilst practicing social distancing at that time of course.
In terms of safety we also had to consider the customer facing roles of sales and service and ensuring we didn’t compromise their health and equally adhere to customer requirements and protocols. On the whole, the feedback has been incredibly positive from our staff and they have felt a great sense of pride in working for Aristocrat through the way they have been supported over these last three months.
BB: Of course, many of your casino customers in the region have been closed for some months, while in Macau the casinos are open but with very little traffic. What sort of interactions have you been able to have with your customers during this time?
LR: As I mentioned earlier, we have been engaging very regularly with our customers largely via phone or ZOOM meetings. The majority of our decision makers and key relationships have still been contactable and working, which has created communication opportunities. While you cannot replicate face–to– face contact, we have utilised digital communications which has led to some productive engagements. It has also enabled us to ZOOM in other stakeholders from around the world to add value and insights to our customers where a flight to that country may not have been possible. It even led in some cases to customers subscribing to ZOOM after our meeting!
BB: What do you think recovery will look like for the industry in Asia?
LR: This is really like looking into a crystal ball. What we know is the majority of jurisdictions around Asia will commence a relaxation of restrictions soon. The recovery is going to depend on the phased implementation per country of these relaxations. Any slip–up could see us back to full closures and restrictions like earlier in the year.
The majority of our markets rely heavily on tourist traffic, so you would expect it will take some period of time for travellers to feel comfortable moving around again and this will also need to be paired with seamless visa arrangements, otherwise travel will be muted.
Another variable will be global demand. A segment of gaming players in Asia derive their income from manufacturing, so if there is significant fallout around the world and demand slows, this could impact the recovery. That said, I’d like to think Asia will be somewhat recovering in the back half of 2020 with a strong ramp towards Chinese New Year 2021.
BB: Can you run us through Aristocrat’s recovery plan, both internally and also as it applies to your work with customers?
LR: We have focused on business fundamentals and ensuring that we are fiscally disciplined to provide ourselves the best chance to handle COVID-19 and be stronger on the other side. By doing this we provide a strong platform to support our customers and assist in ramping back to strong GGR numbers.
At the end of the day, we are a content and technology company. Specific to Asia, we have been focusing on our development pipeline to ensure a portfolio of games that are right for our market. We know the importance of delivering great games in this region and we will continue to do so.
We are also engaging closely with customers to determine how we can support and partner, from their content and commercial needs to any other insights and value they may require from our global tool set.
BB: From a product perspective, we’ve of course seen many shows postponed and travel severely limited. How has this impacted product releases and what can we expect from Aristocrat in terms of new product for the remainder of 2020?
LR: Tradeshows have been postponed and travel restrictions are in place, and this has hampered our ability to demonstrate our latest and greatest in front of our customers. However, in terms of our product releases, we have a stronger portfolio than we have had in Asia for a number of years. In fact, we have increased our investment when compared to previous years to ensure we have enough content to support customers, as players migrate back to properties throughout Asia.
With technology, we have been able to do customer meetings and product presentations via internet software to showcase upcoming releases. We will be delivering 20+ new titles including links, standalone and standalone progressives over the coming period. With this diversity of product, we believe this will suit our player and customer needs.
BB: Aristocrat is also very active within the communities in which it operates. How has the company gone about helping via CSR initiatives in recent months?
LR: At Aristocrat, we believe in giving back to the communities in which we live and work and also contributing to initiatives that reflect the values of Aristocrat and those of our employees. As the spread of COVID-19 mounts globally, we know this is a challenging and unsettling time for the local community. Especially in locations where we operate, we would like them to know they are not alone, and together we will get through this. We’re committed to helping wherever we can.
At the beginning when the virus started, masks were the first thing everyone was looking for. In light of the shortage of surgical masks throughout Macau in the beginning, Aristocrat Macau donated an allocation of surgical masks to the Macau SAR government. In the Philippines we partnered with City of Dreams Manila and are proud to have donated food packages to medical infrastructure sites across 10 hospitals and medical centers, providing for staff, family and the communities in which they operate.
BB: How important do you feel those initiatives have been not only to those you are directly helping but also to the Aristocrat team that has been involved in those CSR efforts?
LR: “Good business, good citizen” is a core value at Aristocrat and giving back is in the DNA of our team and company. As an example, we are co-creating a sustainability initiative at the moment based on our team passions.
Our broader APAC team will be voting on these concepts and we will then implement these in our communities around Asia. We are proud to be involved in these CSR activities and in helping wherever we can within our capacity, because we believe by doing this together our community will be in a better position than it was yesterday.