Magazine article New Zealand Management

FACE TO FACE : Nigel Morrison -- Sky's Rocket? the Challenge of Leading a Turnaround Is What Attracted Nigel Morrison to His Role as CEO of SkyCity. with 15 Years of Gaming Industry Experience Up His Sleeve, Will He Provide the Boost for Its Flagging Fortunes? He's Certainly Not Leaving That to Chance

Magazine article New Zealand Management

FACE TO FACE : Nigel Morrison -- Sky's Rocket? the Challenge of Leading a Turnaround Is What Attracted Nigel Morrison to His Role as CEO of SkyCity. with 15 Years of Gaming Industry Experience Up His Sleeve, Will He Provide the Boost for Its Flagging Fortunes? He's Certainly Not Leaving That to Chance

Article excerpt

Byline: Vicki Jayne

Barely four months into his new role at the helm of SkyCity, Nigel Morrison has been busy injecting a new sense of energy into what he sees as a great company that has rather lost its edge over the past few years. The organisational structure has been rejigged, a new management team appointed and a business plan for the coming year finalised.

As we sit here today we are 99.9 percent through that process. We have the new structure, we've put the new team in place and completed our forward plans so now we're ready to really start running the business -- and I like to think we're well on track," says Morrison.

While Sky's gravity-afflicted share price and stagnant performance might have put some punters off, he is definitely up for the challenge. It's what drew him from the gaming heartland of Macau where he was chief financial officer for the $5 billion Galaxy Entertainment Group to Auckland's quieter (but cleaner) climes -- and despite the economic downturn, he's betting on a brighter outlook for Sky.

I think SkyCity has been a great brand and one of the great casino companies in Australasia for many years. It just seemed to have lost its way in recent years and the challenge to come here and turn it around had great appeal.

Having a background in finance, my strength is more in turnaround than in managing great businesses that are mature -- and I see this very much as a turnaround business. I think that with my interest in people management, technology and in marketing as well, I can help turn it around and that's very exciting."

At 48, Morrison has notched up many years' worth of knowledge in the gaming industry, initially in his home town of Melbourne. Trained as a chartered accountant, he had joined what was then one of the world's largest professional services firms, Arthur Young (later Ernst & Young), working in the audit division for about three years before moving into corporate finance and being made partner in 1991.

I guess over that time I'd got involved in consulting with the gaming industry and worked on a series of feasibility projects."

He was a key member of the bid by Kerry Packer and Las Vegas company Circus Circus to build Sydney's new casino in 1993 and had earlier been instrumental in forming the Crown consortium -- a joint venture between Hudson Conway and the Federal Group.

After Crown was formed, I worked on their bid for three years and when they eventually won the licence [to build Melbourne's Crown Casino], I decided if I was ever going to get out of chartered accounting then this was the time. So I joined Crown [as chief financial officer] in 1993 and we got the temporary casino going at the World Trade Centre and then went on to build the new complex at Southbank. That was one of the largest civilian projects of the time -- it cost about A$2 billion."

The same year Melbourne's Crown Casino was opened in 1997, Morrison became the first non-American to be made chief operating officer at Crown and was tasked with helping turn the company around after the Asian crisis had dented its fortunes. By the time he left in 2000, the company had reached A$1 billion revenue and much of the management team that still runs Crown today had been assembled.

Morrison recalls that when the casino bid got under way in the early 1990s, Melbourne had little in the way of growth or CBD investment going on and he credits the Premier at the time, Jeff Kennett, for taking some bold decisions that helped give the whole state a kickstart.

You couldn't say that Victoria had a casino-led recovery but that was one of the projects he supported that had flow-on benefits which gave the state a new air of confidence."

The buzz associated with that specific project was not the only attraction for Morrison.

I think one of the exciting things about casinos is that they are huge people businesses. …

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