Pascal Lavagna (SKEMA 2017), a career with the Monte Carlo Casino

01 June 2021 Interview

After a few years in education, Monaco native Pascal Lavagna did a complete 180 in his career to join the famous Monte Carlo Casino. He tells us about his evolution within the Monaco-based group, from his beginnings as a croupier to his current role as Finance Director. He talks about his time at SKEMA Business School, the reputable business school that gave him the keys for the next stages of his career.


Can you tell us about your educational and professional background?

I first worked as a Monégasque teacher in a primary school and a secondary school in Monaco. Then in 2003 I joined the Société des Bains de Mer (SBM) group, first as a cage cashier at the Monte Carlo Casino, then as a croupier for about ten years. After the financial crisis of 2008, I noticed that Société des Bains de Mer was having some trouble and was in deficit each year. So I wanted to help in some way, because as a native of Monaco this company is part of our heritage and I felt it was very important to protect it and ensure its survival.

I had a lot of ideas for helping the company get back on its feet, but I wanted to develop some expertise first by completing a high-quality, challenging degree course on the side. I was inspired by an initiative from Ms Puons, the SBM’s head of HR at the time.

So first, I obtained degree in management science from the University of Montpellier. Then, on the advice of the company’s CEO, Jean-Luc Biamonti, I decided to go on to do a Master’s in Finance. I’d heard very good things about SKEMA Business School from the SBM’s finance director, Yves De Toytot (PGE 1982), and from some friends who had studied there. I joined SKEMA Business School’s Master’s in Audit & Finance course within the Grande École programme, on the Sophia Antipolis campus. The schedule meant that I could continue to work at the casino while studying.

My previous training in Montpellier had been very technical, which gave me a solid grounding. At SKEMA, I learned to apply all of that knowledge in the professional world. I also really liked the school’s approach to teaching. It places the accent on team work, openness to the world, humility, cohesion between students…

To this day I’m actually still in contact with some of my former classmates and I regularly attend events organised in my region. I’m also on the admissions jury for the SKEMA Business School entrance exams. That is something I really enjoy and it’s always a pleasure to participate.


What initiatives did you take at the casino after your training?

While I was studying, I was moved to other departments within the company: gaming operations marketing, and then management auditing for the SBM group. I already had on-the-ground knowledge after 12 years of working for the company, and these new experiences gave me a more rounded view of the company.

When I was appointed Financial Director for the casinos, the goal was first to get the gaming operations back on an even keel.

Until then, our offering had been very focused on a European clientele for the most part, particularly Italian, and the Executive Vice-President of Gaming Operations, Pascal Camia, wanted us to target more of an international clientele. As a result, we created an offering specifically for the Asian market, to cater to the expectations and customs of these gamblers. This approach allowed us to significantly increase our revenue and improve our profitability. We then did the same thing for the American continent.

I also did a great deal of work on risk management, something which very few casinos do, but we decided to implement this in Monte Carlo. It allows us to make more informed decisions.

Another great initiative we’re working on at the moment with another SKEMA alumnus, Thomas Catanese (STEM 2017), is the set-up of training courses. The staff already receive really good on-the-job training, and we’d like to provide them with more strategic knowledge, teach them marketing and especially mathematics, since that is what all of the games in a casino are based on!

I explain the workings to them, the reasoning and thought processes, how information is processed, the key indicators to know... As a former croupier, I speak the same language as them so I make it fun. It allows us to make fewer mistakes.


What results have you achieved through these different initiatives?

All of these initiatives have contributed to revenue growth while keeping our costs in check. At the Group level, we’ve achieved a rather spectacular recovery: SBM’s earnings before interest and taxes (EBIT) have risen from -30 million to +20 million in just five years. This also gives us more credibility with stakeholders in the gambling world and has enabled us to make the Monte Carlo Casino a global benchmark once again.


What is different about the business model of casinos?

There’s really only one thing that is specific to the casino world: there is a difference between the turnover achieved and the turnover we should have achieved. The variable is the luck factor. Contrary to what people might think, chance doesn’t exist because luck can be calculated. And my role is to calculate it.

Based on how patrons gamble, we can calculate a risk, a volatility. And we try to offset this by pitching them against other players at the same level as them. If we only have one VIP player, we expose ourselves to high volatility. So we try to have several experienced players and, generally speaking, to have a high gambling volume, in other words a lot of bets, because that tends to level out the volatility. If we make poor calculations, we can really jeopardise a casino.


Did your education at SKEMA Business School prepare you for the reality of the business world?

One of the big advantages of the school was that they offer training grounded in reality. The teachings were very practical and concrete, with a lot of case studies and scenarios of real-life situations. These days, 80% of what I do in my work on a daily basis I used to do during my studies at SKEMA Business School. This training also taught me to manage with a broad perspective, to handle different personalities, to recognise and develop each employee’s talents... Today, I have around thirty people in my department, across 4 different units, and I am proud to see that the teams are completely autonomous in their day-to-day activities. I owe a lot to this school, which allowed me to progress professionally and to hold positions in which I could really influence the future of the company.


What career advice would you give to new or recent SKEMA Business School graduates?

My first bit of advice is in line with the school’s philosophy and it’s to remain very humble, no matter how high up the ladder you are. For example, don’t hesitate to admit when you don’t have the solution to a problem. This really helps to build trust with work colleagues, superiors and your teams. In my opinion, it is also very important to instil meaning in your work and to understand why you do what you do each day.

I also think you have to be tenacious, believe in your ideas and not give up at the first sign of an obstacle or at the slightest difficulty. Actually, I remember an experience that illustrates this very well: when I started in management auditing for the group, I noticed that we had rather considerable expenses relating to equipment destruction, particularly the playing cards. I found it strange that some casinos sell their used cards, yet we were paying to have them destroyed! I was told that selling the used cards was against the law. I wanted to double-check this information for myself via the head of legal and the gaming police. They explained that actually it was possible, as long as the used cards could be clearly distinguished from the cards in use. So that is what we did and today the playing cards are one of the top-selling products at the Monte Carlo Casino! It’s really important not to accept what people tell you at face value, to check with the right people, ask the right questions and not to give up too quickly.


Contact: Pascal Lavagna, Director of Finance at Monte Carlo Casino SBM

Interview by for SKEMA Alumni