Taking on the challenge of transforming casino stigma, Patrick Noakes speaks to BQ about empowering people, taking risks and tackling stress.
What is it the company does?
Victoria Gate Casino is an entertainment and gaming venue in Leeds city centre with a restaurant, two bars, live entertainment, the biggest sports screens in Leeds and of course gaming tables, gaming machines and poker.
Describe your role in no more than 100 words.
My role as managing director at Victoria Gate Casino is quite broad and covers all aspects of the business’ corporate and operational governance. My approach to management is to build the best possible team, including experts in specialist areas, and make sure they all share the venue’s common vision and goals. I help the team work towards these goals on a daily basis, supporting them with short and longer-term plans for the casino.
Give us a brief timeline of your career so far – where did you start, how did you move on?
My first role was in 1985, as a trainee dealer for Stakis Casinos in Birmingham. I spent roughly nine years working in front-line operational positions, before moving into my first management role within the company. In 1999, I became regional director for Ladbrokes casinos, and then moved on to be a regional director for Gala Casinos, before being promoted to UK operations director for Gala.
Somewhere in the middle, I achieved a postgraduate degree in casino management, shortly followed by an MBA and this year I completed a diploma course in anti-money laundering.
Before my current role, I did a three-year stint as a consultant, taking projects for operators, suppliers and local authorities. I was part of an advisory panel for the 2005 Act casino license decision in Southampton, which led to the opportunity at Victoria Gate.
What do you believe makes a great leader?
I believe leaders become great because of the people around them. To run a business successfully you have to accept that you’re not an expert in everything. Leading is about guiding and empowering people to perform their job to the best of their ability, pushing them to take risks and not to fear making mistakes (as long as they can learn from them).
Business culture is a really important aspect too. I believe the team want to feel valued and respected and know that they work for a business with integrity. I’m always clear that high standards are expected, and that applies to me as much as any member of the team. It’s important that team members feel like their voices are heard and that we take on board their ideas to improve the business.
What has been your biggest challenge in your current position?
The biggest challenge at Victoria Gate Casino is prioritising the wider team’s time and energy when there is an abundance of different projects going on. We’re an independent business with a relatively small team and have to make sure resource is directed towards the things that create the most impact. It’s a collaborative effort to make things happen and I encourage the team to pitch in with ideas and actions when it comes to short-notice events and thinking of creative solutions to problems.
I think it’s really important to empower other managers to lead their individual teams, which always helps get things done. There’s a lot of opportunity for employees to develop and help shape the business, which is one of the benefits of being part of a smaller, independent business.
How do you alleviate the stress that comes with your job?
The thing that helps me deal with business stress the most is the interplay with the team. Being able to discuss issues with them really helps to lighten the load. I also think it’s key to realise when something is beginning to stress you out. You have to take a step back and remove yourself from the situation to calm down and reflect. Days out and dog walks are perfect for taking my mind off work and helping put certain situations into perspective. Work-life balance is important for you and the people around you.
I enjoy travelling and have been lucky enough to go to some incredible places such as Japan, South Korea, Bali and Hawaii. I’m a keen photographer, so my wife and I like to explore new cultures, while I capture the beautiful surroundings on camera.
When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I don’t remember having an urge to do anything specific at a young age. With my love for statistics in school, I made the conscious decision to join the casino industry at 18 years old and made sure I did thorough research into the career prospects.
Any pet hates in the workplace? What do you do about them?
I don’t have many pet hates, but punctuality is really important for me. I don’t like being late, because everyone’s time is precious. When it comes to meetings, I like to begin on time and stick to schedule, so I’m not taking people away from their own busy workloads for too long.
Where do you see the company in five years’ time?
Victoria Gate Casino’s goal is to become established as the top gaming and leisure venue in the North of England. We want to be seen as an entertainment venue – not ‘just a casino’. There’s a lot of stigma surrounding casinos in the UK so it’s definitely a challenge, but also a really exciting opportunity. So far, we’ve had some excellent positive feedback from new customers who continue to return once they have visited.
What advice would you give to an aspiring business leader?
If you’re not making mistakes, you’re probably not trying hard enough. Don’t be afraid to try something new – remember that if it doesn’t work you can move on to the next thing. If you don’t take risks, you’ll remain in your comfort zone and never push yourself past it. You develop most when you’re under pressure, so having the confidence to push yourself and your team is when you will take a leap forward, both personally and in business.
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