Insights from JOA Casino Group’s President and CEO, Laurent Lassiaz
Leadership in the global gambling sector is no ordinary feat. It demands an intricate blend of business acumen, interpersonal skills, and a forward-thinking mindset. What better way to understand the nitty-gritty of this role than to hear directly from an industry titan? We recently had the pleasure of interviewing Laurent Lassiaz, President and CEO of JOA Casino Group, one of the premier players in the French gambling market, to glean insights into his leadership journey and the essential skills for steering the ship in this challenging industry.
Five essential leadership skills
When asked about the essential leadership skills for success in the gambling industry, Laurent offered his unique perspective. His own background is from the leisure sector, working at Club Med immediately prior to joining JOA, and he says not being from the industry is a definite plus. He told TGB: “It really does help to take the time to really understand what has been done previously, and to have the freedom to reconsider everything without any mental barriers.” He added: “When I joined JOA, coming from a pure leisure operator with no experience in gaming, I spent lot of time on the road listening to employees and customers.
“I discovered that local employees, seeing customers day to day, had many more ideas to improve the customer journey than the marketing and product experts at head office.”
He adds that it is good experience for those in management, or those aspiring to management, to get out of the office and experience their own business. In Laurent’s words: “Escape your head office and spend much more time in the field than in meetings! Spend as much time on the field in your operation and portfolio than on your competitors or benchmark businesses.”
Not coming from gambling, did Laurent change his approach to management when he entered the industry? Not a bit – and to do so would have been a mistake, he says. “I didn’t change anything versus my previous experience, it’s a mistake to consider our industry as a specific one. I would add that it’s both a mistake and an excuse for those who don’t want to innovate.
“It’s a retail business, we sell experience for a certain price and we need to propose this experience in a safe and controlled environment, that’s it.”
Laurent continued, saying that another key skill is management, to help your business stand out: “This is not a business where you make the difference on the product itself – everybody can buy the same slots. The difference you can make versus a direct competitor is on the soft part of the customer experience: customer service and approach. I’ve never seen high quality service in a poorly-managed casino!”
Curiosity is also essential, says Laurent, and not just about the gambling industry. This will help you look outside the industry for tips and tricks: “It’s by watching the others in different areas, other businesses, listening to staff directly meeting the customers, that you can keep developing a proactive customer journey ahead of the competition.” He continued: “Taking F&B as an example, benchmarking your casino F&B offer to the one next door is a must, but benchmarking your F&B to the best F&B concepts in the immediate area not in a casino could give you even more innovative ideas.
“We need to accept that others have better ideas than us, that even if our regulation is not 100% the same, some small piece of innovation nextdoor can be adapted to our newly designed customer journey. It’s also key to understand that today in a casino, you’re in a position of attracting a large range of different customers, therefore the product and customer journey need to be adapted to this varied audience.”
Laurent also espouses the value of a combination of courage and agility. Courage so you can make bold choices, and agility to adapt and change, which complements the approaches above. He said says, “If you want to be innovative, you need to take some risks and explore different routes.
“Most of the good ideas are out there already, and not only provided by huge retail experts, sometimes you can find brilliant ideas in small retailers. The more time you spend in your office, the more time spent in meetings, the more innovation you are missing! All the good ideas are on the street, all around the globe. You can wait for an expensive agency to advise you in a boardroom, but you’ll already be behind the curve by then.
Laurent keeps returning to the importance of being nimble and observant, and brave enough to do something with what you learn and observe. He elaborates: “When regulation and technological changes are part of our agenda, we have to be quick to adapt and learn.
“Anticipation is a strong skill as well, if you need to face a big regulation change, it takes times to train team members, communicate to customers – so if you’ve started adapting earlier than your direct competitor, you’ll keep your competitive advantage.”
We are in a continually evolving environment, and Laurent says the ability to adapt is becoming ever more vital. This is partly good management, of course, as we have mentioned, but there is more to it. Laurent says: “On top of this, as the industry model is moving toward a more ‘click and mortar’ model, being able to really understand all the potential digital moves that you can bring to your initial model is becoming key.”
For leaders in the industry, Laurent says patience is key. “Big changes usually take time to be accepted by customers and team members. If your new big idea is not immediately rejected, it may turn into something really good!”
Speaking of leaders – has he learned anything from mentors in his own career? Yes, of course, he told us: “When I was working for PepsiCo and later for Club Med, I was managed by people who gave me important management roles even though I was younger than my peers. Those managers taught me two important things:
- Work hard and play hard is part of the recipe. I never met a brilliant manager who was not a hard worker.
- Don’t stop after a ‘no’, try again. Having an answer, even if it’s a no, is always better than not having an answer. After a no, you can start a discussion on the reason for the no and sometimes you can turn it to a success. If I had stopped after the ‘no’ I received from the bank when I wanted to start a pizza delivery business in France back in 1988, I would never have had the chance to sell it two years later to Pizza Hut!”
France is of course a particularly competitive country for casinos, and when asked if he can share an example of a leader in our industry that has impressed, Laurent looks to competitors Groupe Partouche. He explains: “The French market is not only the biggest market in Europe, but with 203 casinos, competition is really strong!
“One of the most innovative companies – and therefore one of the strongest competitors for us – is Groupe Partouche. For example, to tackle the smoking ban, they created an open air casino in “La Ciotat” with huge umbrellas designed as chips, spread over a nice and well-designed garden… You can even play BlackJack in a swimming pool! Yes, it’s in the south of France with milder weather, but there are lots of ideas that operators could adapt to their markets.”
In essence, Laurent’s insights underscore the importance of out-of-the-box thinking, active field experience, and adaptability in leadership within the gambling sector. His wisdom serves as a valuable guide for current and aspiring leaders.