Not every company would send its Managing Director to oversee a committed expansion into a relatively new territory, but that is exactly what Novomatic has done. Jens Halle has relocated to Florida to oversee the company’s growth into the Americas; Casino International found out just what Jens is up to in the Florid sun, and the company’s strategy for the continent.
Casino International: How has your recent personal relocation to Florida worked out in practice? Has the move met your expectations and proved to be an advantage in terms of Novomatic’s plans for the Americas?
Jens Halle: It is still ‘early days’ but, so far, I am greatly encouraged by what has already been achieved and excited by what is still to come. We have our new premises in Fort Lauderdale and we are building the team that will definitely take us forward. We began this project with the clear understanding that a significant presence in the US market is a necessary objective for Novomatic. It will take time, but we have already established our presence and we will build from now onwards with a very clear focus. Personally, this new situation means a great deal to me. There are challenges, of course, but that is part of the attraction. After all, you need only look back at the history of Novomatic to see how we have overcome challenges and expanded our business around the world.
CI: Has relocating and the time difference meant a more hands-off role with the European base?
JH: In a global business such as ours, logistical matters such as time difference have no real significance. Wherever you are, there is a time difference to somewhere. Novomatic has very clear targets for further expansion in the Americas: North, Central and South. Being in Florida means I have more immediate communication with that whole region and our network of subsidiary companies and so help progress our business effectively.
In terms of my role as Managing Director of Austrian Gaming Industries, GmbH (AGI) my relocation has changed only one thing: I have simply reversed my trans-Atlantic travel schedule to better fit the needs of our business. Absolutely nothing else has changed. I am in Florida as a base and I am in Austria when I need to be. It is simply a question of effective time and travel management.
Luckily, I have always been an early riser and that fits very well with the time difference back to Europe. I can take care of the matters in Europe that need attention early in my day and then do the same thing here, in the local time zones. One thing definitely needs to be highlighted. We have a great team at AGI and they have all adjusted, seamlessly, to how we all communicate. When things need to be done, they are done: it is as simple as that!
CI: Why put the company’s managing director so far from your headquarters – why not send a middle-tier manager, for example?
JH: As I said, Novomatic has very definite objectives for the Americas. How we chose to progress those objectives, in the most efficient manner possible, was discussed in minute detail with our senior management. The decision for me to move to the US needed to show benefits very quickly and, without getting into the details, it has already – in a very short period – proved to be the case. We are building a team and an infrastructure that will make Novomatic bigger and better across a continent’s worth of vitally important markets. What it will absolutely not do is to decrease my and Novomatic’s commitment to or our efficiency in our key markets in Europe, or anywhere else.
CI: Is the US HQ’s location in Florida significant? Which markets are you intending to break in to in the US – tribal casinos, for example? Is it also significant with South America in mind?
JH: We chose Florida as a base for several very good reasons. Historically, Florida has always been a great base location for companies doing business in South America … in travel terms, it is three hours closer to those markets than, for example, Nevada. Then, we already had links to Florida thanks to our co-operation for several years with Reel Games and their work with the cruise ship industry (largely based out of Floridian ports) and the Caribbean islands. You mentioned Native American tribal gaming. That is also a market that has a strong presence in Florida and being close, geographically, to that market definitely helps in terms of being able to gain experience quickly and feed that back into the research and development work that we knew, right from the outset, would be necessary to ‘fine tune’ our products to market specific requirements.
CI: Will you be manufacturing in the US at any point in the future?
JH: That’s a ‘wait and see’ question! For now, let me say that we are moving, as Novomatic always does, step-by-step. We have created a ‘hub’ in Florida, with new premises and, as I said earlier, we are creating a team and an infrastructure. That will evolve over time so, sorry to give a simplistic answer to your question, but let’s just wait and see.
CI: Considering the size of Novomatic and its success, why have you decided to work with a partner in the US? Is this relationship short-term or do you envision something much longer-term? How does the relationship work and what will it evolve to become?
JH: Novomatic’s relationship with Reel Games is based on experience and trust. Reel Games are part – an important part – of the ‘team’ structure that I discussed earlier and their experience and knowledge of US market conditions is proving invaluable. I believe that Reel Games will grow and expand together with Novomatic. One thing is sure: we are confident of success.
One key area is the availability, jurisdiction by jurisdiction across the US, of our best known and proven to be successful game titles. That we are succeeding can already be seen through the increasing number of installations that have already been done and those that are scheduled in the very near future. We are working very hard with Reel Games to achieve greater game availability in key markets and thus increase the footprint of our products.
CI: Europe is a largely mature market – even contracting in some countries – so where outside of the Americas do you foresee your growth?
JH: One of the huge strengths of the gaming industry is its ability to reinvent itself to take account of prevailing conditions. The economic climate over recent times has been challenging yet Novomatic has been able to succeed, and to grow at record levels, by being able to react quickly to market opportunities. We have made good progress in Asia, for example, but there is still much to do. We have entered new market sectors such as internet gaming and there is huge potential there so we will continue with our policies of being driven by innovation and reacting swiftly to market demands.