Ralph Topping: Hills situation worrying but solvable

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Ralph Topping: stepped down as boss of Hills in 2014

Following the news that CEO James Henderson has left William Hill, former Hills chief Ralph Topping gives his view on the company

I’M NOT entirely surprised by the news. There has been a lot of speculation in and around the industry for the best part of 12 months. Some have said that Hills look for all the world like Coca-Cola would if they’d lost their syrup recipe and were trying hard to find it.

People also talk about Hills losing prominent senior management, but from what people have told me we’ve also lost a chunk of experienced and quality middle management. All that saddens me really as the job of keeping William Hill on track was, is and always will be dependent on attracting and retaining quality people at all levels.

I’d be surprised if staff losses weren’t one of the big worries for the board in all this. It’s part of their role to talk to management and get themselves around the business on an extremely regular basis.

I’m sure the chairman will have been visiting the business, especially in Gibraltar, and will have been talking with lots of management and frontline teams. He certainly would have picked up on why people were leaving.

I expect he will have committed to large shareholders that he won’t rest now until the business is fixed, but that may take a bit of time. Will he look to do a Theresa May and shake the board up this year as well? Difficult question.

When things go awry it wouldn’t be an unexpected step for a chairman to strengthen at the top to perhaps bring deeper expertise and fresher ideas around the board table.

Hills is in a fast-changing sector and is a business that is focused on interlinking betting, the web and technology. I’m sure, therefore, the chairman will be giving board composition some thought as he tries to make the kettle sing again.

Solvable situation

The situation is of course worrying for small and big shareholders and anyone who cares about William Hill, but it is fundamentally solvable. I’d have no worries about that.

Finding the person who knows the formula for success and is skilled enough to make it happen is the really hard bit.

For Hills’ sake and the thousands of frontline troops who depend on the board and management I hope the new person when in place is a star turn. It is a great company and deserves no less.

Picking a CEO is, of course, a high-stakes gamble, but if you look back Hills have, in the last 20 years, got it right three times out of four. That’s not bad form.

 

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