The emotions that arise when Colin Helsen talks about Griffith University convey much about what drives this internationally successful businessman.
More deeply, they represent what is possible through commitment, sacrifice and, as Colin admits, sheer bloody-mindedness.
From life as an electrician in the small New Zealand town of Kaipoi (population 10,000), Colin has taken his Griffith qualifications to the top of the international gaming industry.
“I have my Griffith certificates framed and hanging on the wall in my office. Apart from my family, they are the most important achievements of my entire life. Through them, I got my shot at a better life.”
Colin is now Vice President and Managing Director (Utility Products) for global gaming giant Scientific Games.
It is the latest executive role for a man who over the past two decades has run gaming businesses and helped develop and introduce new technology – particularly automatic card shufflers – in casinos in Asia, South Africa, Europe, the US and aboard cruise ships.
However, long before becoming such an important figure for gaming icons such as QuickDraw, Shuffle Master, Bally and now Scientific Games, Colin took a few gambles of his own.
One was in moving the Helsen family to the Gold Coast in 1988. Another was study.
“I just wanted to prove I was good enough”
“I saw an ad and it asked: Did you miss the chance to go to university?” recalls Colin.
“I’d dropped out of high school and got an apprenticeship back in New Zealand. I thought I’d done my dash in terms of education.
“I just wanted to prove I was good enough. It took me a long time and I had to defer a few times because of work, but I never failed anything in the degree. I loved it.”
A year before graduating — a ceremony he still regrets that work forced him to miss — Colin joined QuickDraw in a Gold Coast-based travel and training role.
“The knowledge that I was doing a degree got me through the door and into that job. I got a shot on the strength of my Griffith studies. I’ve found that over and over in my career.”
While this role and others to follow were exciting, the demands were many. One year Colin spent 270 days away from home.
After Shuffle Master acquired QuickDraw in 2001, Colin decided to begin a Masters through Griffith. He also transferred to the US as Technical Training Manager at the company’s head office in Las Vegas
Rising to become Western Regional Manager in the US, the company then created a position in Australia so Colin and his family could return to Australia.
Following a stint in Sydney, in 2007 Colin returned to Las Vegas to take on the prestigious role of running the company’s shufflers department.
Time to come home
When Shuffle Master was acquired by Bally in 2013, Colin knew it was time to come home to the Gold Coast.
He did so the following year and now works remotely while still travelling extensively. This has continued since the subsequent acquisition of Bally by Scientific Games.
“It’s been quite a journey,” he says. “I thought I’d be a sparky forever. I had a good job in the electrical industry and was making money.
“But there was always something nagging at me, a need to do more, and my family have been incredibly patient and forgiving as I pursued my dreams.
“Griffith helped me too. I can’t measure how much, just that the qualifications I gained have opened so many doors around the world.
“I’ve always said: if you want it; you have to make it happen. Never give in.”
Read the Gold Coast Bulletin’s story on Colin here.