William Hill chairman Gareth Davies has described the task of finding a like-for-like replacement for CEO Ralph Topping as ‘impossible’. With Topping looking to take retirement next year, it has fallen to Davies to head up the search for his successor and it is something that he ‘really goes to town on’.
Speaking with CITY AM, Davies said that Topping leaves big shoes to fill: “Quite frankly they’re impossible to fill, so don’t even try. You’ll always be disappointed. You’re not going to get a 44-year industry veteran to replace him, so don’t even go there. It’s one of the few things a chairman absolutely has to get right, and one of the main areas where some chairmen do seem to come unstuck. It’s worth being very diligent, and even then there’s no guarantee you get it right.”
Davies added: “The great shame of William Hill is that Ralph became CEO so late in his career. He’s really kicked life into the business.”
The new CEO will have to deal with the vagaries of gambling legislation, and Davies has been particularly disheartened by the current level of debate around the industry. “As an ex-tobacco man I’ve had a career that’s been liberally laced with regulation. I have no problem with it as long as it’s well thought out and proportionate. But it’s a sad fact of life that it can become a contest of the soundbite. When machines are labelled the ‘crack cocaine of gambling’ it’s very unhelpful. But of course that’s the nature of some politicians – they will distort situations via well-chosen soundbites.”
William Hill also has a very healthy balance sheet, although Davies thinks that it will be invested away from the UK market again, as recent years has seen the bookmaker make acquisitions in the US, Australia and Spain. “The balance sheet is very healthy, and it’s a fragmented, international market. The very strong likelihood is that our next move would be outside of the UK again.”