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Aristocrat: Supportive Business Transformed Into a Global Leader


John C. Maxwell said, “A leader is one who knows the way, goes that way, and shows the way.”

Being a leader is not just owning the title – some people set out to make a difference. The same can be said about Leonard Ainsworth, a man whose dream was to elevate the family’s heritage to a new level and provide immense entertainment to everyone.

Thanks to his business potential and a strive for success, today, Australians and people worldwide can enjoy thousands of poker and slot machines.

Behind these games is a leader in the market, the company Aristocrat, which sets standards and pushes boundaries for innovation and creativity. But Leonard’s path from creating a company to building a reputable brand wasn’t as simple as climbing a ladder.

This is a story of success and incredible dedication despite many personal and business challenges.

The Big Dentist Dream Transformation

Leonard Ainsworth was born in Sydney, Australia, in 1922. His father was a dentist who made dental supplies and equipment in his pastime.

For Len, his dad’s hobby looked like a good business opportunity, and he was brave enough to transform his father's hobby into a business. So, in the early 1950s, when Len was only 20s, he started to work.

However, this was not the long-term career pathway for Len. One day, a friendly talk with his English friend, Joe Haywood, was a historic moment for slot players. Joe asked Len if he would make a pokie machine.

Len knew nothing about it, so he learned the basics from Joe: that it has a handle, players put money in the machine, spin the reels, and might win. This looked like a good business idea, a big dentist's dream to come true. Len agreed and decided to invest earned money in building dentist chairs.

At that time, machines were not legal, but it didn’t stop these two, and that’s how they formed their company, the Club Man. Despite the legal implications, the first order came very soon. Then the purchase was doubled and doubled again until the weekly demand increased to 32 machines.

Early Success Attracts Enemies

Everything was going so well until one day in 1954 when Joe called Len, saying that a bomb had blown the roof of the machine factory. The fire was so big that firefighters, ambulances, police, and a photographer were at the scene of the accident in just a few minutes.

The only two surprised by the fire were Len and Joe. During the incident, the policeman told Len that he should know he was in the big league now.

Slot machines became legal two years after the fire in New South Wales, making Len’s dream even bigger. The initial business that started in 1953 was named Aristocrat, and this was the beginning of a 40-year-long journey that lasted till 1994, when Len retired.

The Growth of the Aristocrat Empire

The next 40 years were the period of Aristocrat growth. In the 60s and 70s, Aristocrat achieved global expansion in Europe and the US. This was when the first live reel slot machine was created, while 1979 will be remembered for the all-electronic game Wild West.

From the production of the first machine in 1953, when it was not legal, Aristocrat grew into a company licensed to distribute slot machines and gaming products first in Australia in more than 200 jurisdictions. Leonard’s company became the world’s largest manufacturer of slot machines.

Throughout the years, he married twice and has 7 children, 5 from the first marriage and the other 2 from the second wife. At the time, even though his business was going well, a big hit came in 1994. Leonard was diagnosed with prostate cancer, and the predictions were that he had a year left.

But Len was still thinking about his life's work. He believed that the best thing for Aristocrat was to divide the estate among his wife, ex-wife, and seven children. He soon put the plan into action, left Aristocrat in the hands of his family, and retired in the same year.

The Rival was Born by the Same Creator

As luck would have it, the predictions didn’t come true, and Len decided to move on, especially on a professional level. The Pokies King could not stay calm at home and had a new idea to materialize his creativity. In 1995, at the age of 72, he established Ainsworth Game Technology with a mission to become the leading manufacturer and gaming solution supplier.

Ainsworth Game Technology became a significant player in the gambling machines business, with about 35% of the Australian market. The stock price had risen 145% in 12 months. That’s right, Len Ainsworth was again a billionaire.

Len Ainsworth chaired the company till 2018, when he closed a transaction with Novomatic AG and transferred 52% of the Ainsworth Game Technology to the new owner. This transaction was valued at A$473 million, while the AGT continued to work as a stand-alone public company.

The competition among the rivals resulted in a federal court case. In July 2019, Aristocrat sued Ainsworth Game Technology with the allegation that it was using proprietary code and media assets to produce a similar game to the Lighting Link game.

In less than a year, the Australian Federal Court decided that the technology Aristocrat was using to produce the blockbuster Lighting Link was a subject for a patent.

This was a big win for Aristocrat and proof of continuous investment in innovation to develop an outstanding entertaining games portfolio.

New Era of Aristocrat & Financial Situation

After the family members took over the company, it had ups and downs. In 1996 Aristocrat was listed on the Australian Stock Exchange and its share price rapidly increased. All his family got a fortune.

A big move to Vegas happened in the 2000s, but soon after, the US economy started to decline, and Aristocrat Leisure faced flattish profitability for 4 years in a row.

Customers were not replacing the old machines, reflecting the company’s profitability. As the second-largest maker of slot machines, in 2007, Aristocrat posted a profit of $247 million, only an $8 million increase from the previous year. This crisis also affected its rival, International Game Technology.

In the following years, the wheel turned up, and Aristocrat had continuous success. In 2011 the agreement with AGLC was closed for providing games and equipment to Alberta’s video lottery terminal network.

In 2012 acquisition of Product Madness was completed, and 2 years after, Aristocrat bought Video Gaming Technologies for about $1.3 billion.

Another 2 acquisitions happened in 2017 when they acquired 2 mobile game developers, Platinum and Big Fish Games. These last decisions made Aristocrat a world-leading publisher across multiple game genres.

Aristocrat Leisure Limited Today

Today, Aristocrat Leisure Limited is one of the world's leading providers of gaming solutions. Throughout the years, the company obtained licenses for over 300 jurisdictions and operational activities in over 90 countries. The team has grown into 7,000 employees dedicated to innovative solutions using the latest technology.

Aristocrat's primary focus is to satisfy customers and players with new and unique gaming experiences. People working in Aristocrat are valued, and the company cares about enabling their growth.

Leonard is now happily retired after saying goodbye to his Executive Director role in 2019. Apart from a business, he is a philanthropist, having donated to hospitals, medical institutes, and foundations.

What Aristocrat is today shows confidence for future success. Standing straight on both legs promises that the company will continue to bring joy to life every day through the power of the games.