Leadership 2022: BCLC CEO Pat Davis is bringing players back into the fold

A big focus for Davis is to work with service providers and partners to rebuild the casino business.

BCLC Pat Davis

Credit: BCLC

A big focus for Davis is to work with service providers and partners to rebuild the casino business

This year, we focus on those who have taken on new roles at the top of an organization recently, and quiz them about the changing landscape of leadership.

On his first day as CEO of the British Columbia Lottery Corporation, Pat Davis went on vacation.

Since the gambling entertainment company is a Crown corporation, Davis had to first wait for the board to offer him the role and then for the government to approve it. By the time the announcement took place this August, Davis was on day one of his holiday.

“I was at a friend’s place getting ready to go golfing,” he thinks back with a laugh. “That got put on hold, of course. It did mean that I was able to go out and celebrate with friends at the end of the day and have a nice dinner at one of the wineries, but it also meant that all of my initial conversations with the team and company were through video conference.”

In managing all legal gambling activities in the province, the BCLC’s main lines of revenue are its lottery business (which includes 3,500 lottery retailers), casino operations (it has 36 casino properties with some 14,000 slot machines in total) and its online gambling site, playnow.com.

But casinos were closed for over a year due to the pandemic. A big focus for Davis since taking the reins from Jim Lightbody— who stepped down due to health complications, inviting Greg Moore and then Lynda Cavanaugh to serve on an interim basis for three years—is to work with service providers and partners to rebuild the casino business.

Although Davis has been with the organization for some 20 years—he joined as a project manager and climbed the ranks to become VP of business technology and chief information officer—his first experience as a shot-caller goes back to college.

As a Thompson Rivers University student in Kamloops, Davis used to coach high school football and rugby. “When you’re only a couple of years older but you’re coaching 15-to-16-year-old kids, you learn a lot about how to motivate groups,” he maintains. “That gave me an opportunity to start building some leadership skills and prove what I knew.”

It wasn’t until he had proved his dedication to his first “real” job (not counting pumping gas in the summer of Expo 86) in the banking industry that Davis was officially put in charge of a team.

He worked part-time as a Royal Bank teller while finishing his degree, and after he joined them full-time, he was given the responsibility of rolling out a technology program across Western Canada. He was suddenly expected to direct a team, even though his own role hadn’t really changed. “I wouldn’t say I went into that 100-percent confident that we were going to do a fantastic job, but I was confident that I had a good team,” he says.

Davis settled in just fine—a few sleepless nights did the trick.

Over many years of leading teams, he’s grasped the importance of being mindful about what to say and how to say it. And what hasn’t changed for him is helping people understand their strengths and realize their potential.

“One thing that I absolutely learned from Jim and continue to bring forward into this role is the focus on our people,” Davis insists.

The new CEO is now in charge of 1,100 staff. Total revenues in 2021-22 clocked in at around $2 billion, with over $1 billion turned over to the province in net income. The pandemic offered an opportunity for people to reevaluate barriers to digital platforms, and the BCLC adjusted accordingly, but it’s been a big shift for the Crown corporation’s senior team.

“As a leader, you need to really focus on the outcomes and you have to be less focused on some of the day-to-day specifics of how work gets done,” Davis says. “Luckily, we’ve had some great technology to support us.”

Keeping his promise of preserving the people-centric and “family oriented” legacy laid out by Lightbody, Davis led his team to develop a new lottery system that places the player’s experience above all. It’s set to launch next year.

“Part of my role as CEO is to continue some of the work that’s already been started and then evolve that,” Davis says of the BCLC’s drive to become a social purpose company. The organization has sharpened its focus on ESG initiatives, including new EDI policies, climate efforts and player health strategies (which involves a voluntary self-exclusion program for players who need help). “Everything we do, our social purpose asks us to consider how we can create additional value,” he notes.

The BCLC was rated highly in a social purpose report by media and research firm Corporate Knights this past March and recognized as a 5-Star diversity and inclusion employer by HR Director Canada in June, so the odds already seem to be in Davis’s favour.

Q&A with Pat Davis

Who are your role models today?

I align with leaders who are highly empathetic with their teams while also displaying a keen customer focus. I think Bob Iger and Alan Mulally are good examples of that.

How do you handle criticism?

I think that it is difficult for senior leaders to get unfiltered feedback, so I view any feedback, critical or not, as an opportunity to learn. 

What book or movie had the biggest influence on you?

I really like Marshall Goldsmith’s What Got You Here Won’t Get You There.