William Hill buttresses boardroom to drive online alone

Betting Business William Hill
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After the sudden departure of its longstanding CEO and the two failed merger attempts that followed, William Hill is breathing life into its online division with a trio of boardroom appointments.


[dropcap]A[/dropcap]fter a tumultuous period for the biggest beast in British betting, governance at William Hill has given its top table a more digital make-over with the appointment of three key board members.

The shake-up comes at the end of a difficult year for the firm in which at least three major merger attempts went south and former chief executive James Henderson, who had worked at William Hill for more than three decades, packed his bags due to stalling online growth.

Joining the embattled boardroom are a trio of corporate veterans designed to turn Hill’s online fortunes around and fend off mounting criticism over a series of ill-conceived deals. John O’Reilly, former managing director at Coral Interactive; Mark Brooker, formerly COO of Betfair; and Robin Terrell, former CCO of Tesco have all been appointed as non-executive directors. The first of whom is particularly well known in the betting business and joins directly from software company Grand Parade, that William Hill acquired in August for £13.6m.

“These appointments significantly enhance the board’s digital, multichannel and gambling industry experience,” said company chairman Gareth Davis. “John’s, Robin’s and Mark’s collective expertise will strengthen the business as we implement our strategy of digital and international diversification.”

The announcement was released in tandem with a brief trading update that disclosed revenues had risen by six percent in the four months to 25 October. The figures included a much-needed four percent lift in online growth, potentially marking the other side of technical difficulties that had plagued this vital division throughout the year.

“In this period we have continued to focus on Online’s turnaround, identifying efficiencies and international growth,” the company’s interim CEO Philip Bowcock told investors mid-month. “Online has returned to wagering growth in the UK following significant enhancements to our mobile Sportsbook in Q2 and we are making good progress on the gaming and user experience improvements in H2.”

Bowcock went on to note that £30m worth of efficiencies had been identified, and in a welcomed turnaround from March’s profit warning, reported that operating revenues are now heading for “the top end” of its initially projected range, between £260m to £280m.

Also revealed in the update however, was the company’s falling retail revenues. This, the firm’s largest division, contracted by four percent in the 43 week period, highlighting just how inflammatory its efforts to diversify online have become.

That the company is still without a CEO is a stark reminder of such woes. The former chief exec swiftly walked the plank in July precisely because he had failed to generate online growth.

“We have to face up to the fact that online hasn’t performed how we wished,” Davis said at the time. “James is a good operator and is a realist. He realised that the business has very high expectations with online given its historic growth and how it has slipped in recent times. James was well aware of that.”

In the convening months, executives at Hill have tried to scramble together two mergers with big online brands – Rank 888 and Pokerstar’s Amaya – to fast track this transition. Both failed due to oversight and opposition from shareholders.

The need to diversify, alone or via acquisition, is amplified by the minute, as regulatory pressure mounts on gaming machines, which net around a quarter of Hill’s total income, as well as TV advertising.

While there is still no update on a new chief executive, investors have clearly been boldened by the appointments. Shares jumped 2.5 percent with the double helping of positive news, suggesting some have taken this bolstering of digital experience as a signal that, rather than pursue further reaching merger talks, William Hill is opting to drive online growth from within its ranks.

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