“Like many of us, my childhood really shaped and influenced the life I chose to build,” Siobhan Lane tells Gambling Insider as we sit down over Zoom. The video call is an art she has become well versed in, having joined Scientific Games (now rebranded to Light & Wonder) right before the Covid-19 pandemic. “I’m from Ireland, originally. My name’s Irish. A lot of people have trouble with the pronunciation! But I immigrated to the US when I was quite young, and I watched my parents work hard to provide a great life for me and my siblings – and really work to set up for success.”
Over the many CEO Specials we have run over the years, this is undoubtedly a theme that has come up on many occasions. Our industry’s foremost executives had hard-working values instilled in them during their formative years. And, for Lane, moving to the US and following her father’s career created a sense of self-sufficiency and independence, making her “highly resourceful at a young age.” It is those attributes, she feels, that really launched her career and eventually turned her into a leader.
For some CEOs, their path to the role can involve rising through the ranks of accounting and transitioning from CFO. For many, there’s a more operational route – ending up with a COO moving into the hot seat. Others, like Lane, follow the marketing path, passing through either a CCO or CMO position. “I started my career in advertising and marketing with a marketing degree from Penn State and, early in my career, joined the gaming industry,” Lane explains. “In 2007 I joined Aristocrat. I spent 12 years there, really growing my career; primarily focused on growing their gaming operations business, taking it from a clear number five to number one in the market and then really leading the transformation of Aristocrat’s North American business.”
MOVING UP THE CHAIN
Given Aristocrat’s position within the market today – it boasts a multi-billion dollar market capitalisation – Lane’s time with the company (much more on this later) clearly taught her volumes. In 2019, the move to Scientific followed, where Lane received the opportunity to lead “an end-to-end transformation” of the company’s gaming business. After 12 years, Lane was ready for change – a new opportunity – and knew there was more she could both offer to others and learn herself. She adds: “I do truly believe the best way to grow and learn, evolving as a person, is to continuously put yourself in ambiguity and unfamiliar situations, depending on yourself.” Backing up Lane’s claim is a minor in French at university; she describes her fluency as comme ci, comme ça! More importantly, though, the course involved a six-month study period in France, living with a French family, providing more unfamiliar situations and developing a respect and appreciation for different cultures.
But how does one transition from a study period in France to the gambling industry? When we put the phrase “happy accident” to Lane, it’s one she can very much relate to. “I wasn’t familiar with the gaming industry before I joined it. It wasn’t something I aspired to join,” she says. “I do think another global travel experience really got my foot in the door. After I graduated from Penn State, I applied for a Visa to live and work in Australia. So once I graduated, I worked temp jobs and travelled around the country. Then I came back and eventually got a real job; when my husband and I relocated to Las Vegas in 2007, I randomly applied for a job at Aristocrat.
“Obviously, my Australian work experience was on my resume, so I think that probably contributed to at least getting my foot in the door in some way. It was a half accident, you will. I think, like many people, I didn’t plan to stay in the industry. But I learned – and grew to love it. I started at the very bottom. I was a marketing specialist. There was nobody lower on the totem pole than me. And I hustled every day, worked my way up the chain and I’ve been able to really enjoy a very successful career in this industry. The people you surround yourself with, too, help forge your path forward.”
“The Covid-19 pandemic was a very scary time for all of us as a team. As a leader, you have this high level of uncertainty and ambiguity you have to navigate through”
TIME IN THE TRENCHES
Inevitably, Lane’s journey through the ranks – especially in over a decade with Aristocrat – brought key learnings she is now applying as Light & Wonder’s Gaming CEO. Reflecting on her time with the Australian land-based giant (which also possesses an online division, of course), Lane says she was “really fortunate” to join Aristocrat after its “growth spurt” in the early 2000s. After she arrived in 2007, Jamie Odell joined as CEO in 2009, kicking off a transformation programme for the organisation. It’s a transformation – a word that will come up several times in this interview – Lane feels “very fortunate” to have taken part in, as she was allowed to play an important role as a young leader.
“It gives you a lot of time in the trenches,” the executive remarks. “There were some tough years and that transformation took many, many years, which Aristocrat has a lot of momentum off the back of now. But through that experience, certainly you see evidence of what to do and what good looks like. A lot of the time, the learning is experiencing what not to do.” There are three lessons in particular Lane singles out. The first concerns personnel: “You should surround yourself with great people. They will determine your success, and you should make those decisions on talent decisively and unapologetically. Great talent, 100% aligned with your core values, is always worth investing in, and you should do that every day of the week.”
Lane’s second key learning is that a leader must have a strong sense of self – and a strong value system. Often operating under a level of ambiguity, a CEO must lean on that value set to help guide their decisions, so that they are always rooted in principle. Finally, Lane is a “big believer” in communication, using this as a cornerstone of building trust across a team. She highlights communicating with the right level of transparency: “At the end of the day, people want to understand the ‘why’ behind what you’re doing. And when they have that context, they can do their jobs more effectively.” Those who have bought into the vision have a common understanding of a company’s collective goals. Lane saw this transparent communication in action during Odell’s transformation programme at Aristocrat. Naturally, it’s something she is determined to implement at Light & Wonder.
THE BUSINESS OF TRANSFORMATION
“Transformation” is an important theme Lane is keen to discuss at length, given its relevance to both her previous and current roles. She tells Gambling Insider: “When you’re driving transformation, change is hard for anyone. We’ve experienced that as a society over the last few years, but I think there are some core tenants you can tap into as a leader; to help make that change easier and more effective for people – because it is a constant question.”
Delving into Lane’s time with Light & Wonder more specifically, the executive has taken on several different roles, being exposed to many different scenarios. Though her background and education lie in marketing, as MD of North American at Light & Wonder, there was a strong emphasis on profit and loss management – which additionally brought with it operational experience. Further areas of expertise aiding Lane’s move into the CEO role came in strategy and product management. Overall, she says, it’s been a “nonstop” three years and counting with the gaming supplier (at press time – February 2023).
“I stepped into my role about six weeks before the pandemic hit,” Lane recalls. “So I was expecting it to be a completely different experience to what it was! For any leader that was a trying time, or for any person living through that in gaming, especially because it shut our land-based industry completely down. It was a very scary time for all of us as a team. As a leader, you have this high level of uncertainty and ambiguity you have to navigate through. We knew it was a transformation programme that we were coming in to lead and Covid-19 forced us to be very decisive and move quickly; specifically on cost management within the business just to make sure we could survive and get to the other side of things.”
Since then, however, the Gaming CEO believes Light & Wonder has really “executed” on its transformation programme, both at an enterprise level and within gaming. Since Scientific Games rebranded to Light & Wonder, with a notable departure as Barry Cottle left the overall CEO role, it has a new board, a new strategy and a new vision. The divestitures of the company’s hitherto lottery and sports betting businesses have given Light & Wonder a “healthy balance sheet.” Debt levels, too, are down considerably, according to Lane.
Change is constant in any business, but particularly given Light & Wonder’s current focus. Lane continues: “I think that’s really exciting. But, most importantly, it puts us in a position where we can invest in our business. We invest in R&D, in our people and culture, in our business infrastructure and have progressed from a debt-ridden organisation to a growth organisation. When we think about that for our creators, growth organisations create career opportunities. They create financial stability. They create learning opportunities, developing the next generation of leaders.”
PAYING IT FORWARD
That next generation is very close to Lane’s heart. Some CEOs might not be blamed for enjoying life at the top and looking after number one. But perhaps the reason these executives – like others featured in this CEO Special edition – have progressed so far through the ranks is their dedication to others. Lane, when she thinks about how her parents raised her, her time at Aristocrat and at Light & Wonder so far, is excited by providing an opportunity for the company’s creators. She wants to “cultivate” the next generation of leaders, so much so it is one of her primary goals as CEO.
Another target of particular emphasis is a strong customer focus. Lane explains: “We always say we’re here because of our customers and our job is to make them successful. We want them to want us to succeed. There’s a mutually beneficial relationship on this journey; I’m making sure we’re developing products that make them successful and create profitable gaming floors, and then creating great experiences as we do business with them is what we’re here to provide.”
But while Light & Wonder invests heavily in its products, Lane is well aware a company can be defined by its culture. Indeed, the CEO acknowledges that people want to work in an organisation that has “a great culture.” Creating an environment where teams collaborate to solve problems ultimately attracts the best talent – but it can also be an environment where employees have fun. And this leads Lane to an analogy Gambling Insider can’t help but love. She says: “I see everyone in our team as having a superpower, and my job is to really optimise that superpower and make every individual feel like they’re contributing to the goal. They need to feel that their superpower is valuable, that there’s a place for them on the team and, when they feel fulfilled in doing that, the organisation gets to leverage all of those collective superpowers – and we get to build a great culture.”
THE BEST PART OF THE JOB
Yet, amid all our discussion of superpowers, transformation and culture, the CEO role is obviously not an easy one. There are accolades for quarterly growth and credit for new business. There’s reward in building teams and seeing them flourish. But there is also unrelenting pressure. The CEO is the face of a business (or Gaming division, in this case) in both good and bad times. When we ask Lane what the hardest aspect of being a CEO is, she points to the tough decisions. Like with any leader, you have to own your executive decisions.
“When it’s a tough decision or you’re navigating tough situations like a pandemic or a recession, these kinds of macroeconomic conditions, you’re going to have to make that tough call,” she reflects. “Then I take comfort in routing it back to our values and my personal values, and how I would want to be treated and respected as an employee of an organisation. But I think making that tough call can be a hard part of the job.” The best part of the job? “I think being able to create career opportunities for people. There’s nothing more I like than finding really high-performing individuals in the organisation and sponsoring them, or giving them exposure, giving them a project where they can really reach their full potential. I take a lot of pride in developing and creating those opportunities as a leader for lots of creators in our organisation.”
“I see everyone in our team as having a superpower, and my job is to really optimise that superpower and make every individual feel like they’re contributing to the goal. They need to feel that their superpower is valuable, that there’s a place for them on the team”
DIVERSITY, EQUALITY AND INCLUSION
The final topic of our interview takes us to leadership of a different kind – neither internal nor company based, but on a wider industry level. As part of her sector activity beyond just the Light & Wonder headquarters, Lane is a Board Member at the Global Gaming Women organisation, taking the role of Vice President in July 2021. Cassie Stratford is the body’s President & Chair, while Lauren Bates is 1st Vice President. Lane walks us through her role here: “I was recently elevated to 2nd Vice President on the Board. We’re there to provide the strategic direction for the organisation and then we have various committees that do all the work. It’s a 100% volunteer-based organisation, so we have lots of committees that plan and execute on the agenda of Global Gaming Women.
“We provide oversight for all of those committees and we’re really experiencing a bit of a resurgence. It’s exciting to see we’ve got a lot of passionate leaders that have been involved in the organisation in the past, or are new to the organisation that is really there to uplift women. We make sure we provide access to professional development or networking with other women in the industry and female leaders, which I think is really important so that they know they’re not alone on this journey.”
For those growing up in the industry, Lane acknowledges, there were “very limited” female role models in leadership positions. But that’s something that has “changed and evolved” over the years. In the past, there may have been a feeling of experiencing certain situations alone – Global Gaming Women aims to provide a network to stop this from happening. “I’ve got three young kids, two of which are girls, but even for my son, it’s important to me that I’m actively involved in driving change in our industry,” Lane continues. “It’s not lost on me that I’m a role model to females in this industry. I’m also a role model to my kids and I take that role very seriously.”
Of course, this is an important area within Light & Wonder, too, with Lane emphasising the company’s DEI (Diversity, Equality & Inclusion) strategy, which it has made “great progress against.” It is a great source of pride and personal commitment for the Gaming CEO. “There should always be more examples of female leaders,” Lane states. “But we do have a good few role models now that can help future generations. Even before us, there were many women in the industry that were role models. I think, just relative to the number of men in the industry, there wasn’t that level of equity. We as an industry have made great strides. Certainly, there’s more work we can do. But I’ve watched this change over the years, and we have a lot of male leaders that have been great allies of DEI and women in the industry.
“I myself have had male bosses throughout my career and they’ve been nothing but supportive, and have sponsored me, having been very strong allies. We can’t do it alone, right? The minority group can’t do this alone. We need strong allies from majority groups and people that are in more of a position of privilege. And we’re very fortunate in our industry to have that level of support so that we continue to forge a path forward.”
Overall, as Lane looks back on her career – the challenges, the growth and the personnel – she concludes: “Working with great people is a part of my job that I love and really cherish. I get to continue to travel the world because we’re a global industry. We have teams at Light & Wonder all over the globe. So that’s very fulfilling to me.” Indeed, as Light & Wonder continues its path towards being a growth organisation, it might end up having a little something to do with Lane’s own superpowers.