People News

UK betting and gaming operator William Hill has promoted group operations director James Henderson to the role of chief executive of the business, replacing Ralph Topping from August 1st.

Henderson has spent more than 29 years with the operator and currently oversees its UK retail, online, Australian and US operations. He takes up the CEO position as Topping steps down after six years in the role and 44 years with the business overall.

William Hill chairman Gareth Davies said he was delighted to appoint Henderson following an extensive and thorough review of both internal and external applicants.

“His breadth of knowledge spans the whole group, having worked in both the major divisions, overseen the establishment of William Hill US and, most recently, taken responsibility for William Hill Australia,” Davies explained.

He added that this knowledge, supported with Henderson’s established relationships with the company’s senior management and wider industry, made him the best person to sustain the momentum achieved under Topping, and to further develop the operator’s digital and international diversification.

Henderson said he was “delighted and excited” to take charge of the group during its 80th anniversary year.

“Whilst we face challenges as an industry, there are also plenty of opportunities to keep strengthening William Hill by further diversifying our revenues and continuing to build a responsible, sustainable business,” he added.

His predecessor Topping commented: “I have enjoyed working with James for many years and am pleased to have appointed him to various important operational roles in that time.”

“It is great to have seen him progress up through the business to the point of taking on the big job, the role of chief executive,” Topping continued. “As a ‘one company man’ I am naturally a big supporter of William Hill and its people, so I really wish James and the rest of our management team all the success in the world in continuing to take the company forward.”

Under the terms of Topping’s service contract, William Hill is required to give him 12 months’ notice, which started from July 3rd. As a result he will remain an employee of the company for this period, and will be able to provide advice and guidance to Henderson.

He will continue to receive his current base salary of £650,000 and will retain his current bonuses. He will also participate in the annual bonus plan for 2014, and as he is retiring after such long service, the board’s remuneration committee will treat him as a “good leaver.”

This means Topping will be eligible for a bonus based on the performance criteria set out in the bonus scheme, pro-rated until July 31st 2014, with the final amount to be determined after the 2014 financial year end.

His departure comes as something of a surprise however, with many expecting him to remain in the role until 2015.

His six-year tenure as CEO of William Hill has seen the business move from a predominantly retail-based, UK-focused operator, to a multi-channel international business. A joint venture with Playtech to form William Hill Online was credited as helping make William Hill a significant player in the iGaming sector, with main rival Ladbrokes signing a similar agreement last year after failing to catch up despite numerous attempts.

Under Topping, the operator also made significant inroads to the US market through the acquisition of Brandywine Bookmaking, American Wagering and Club Cal Neva in June 2012. It became the largest bookmaker in Australia through the joint acquisition of Sportingbet alongside GVC, with the deal considered a strategic masterstroke after Ladbrokes had tried, and failed to acquire the business following concerns over grey market activity.

Topping started working as a Saturday boy for the bookmaker, before moving through shop management to the inner workings of the business, and was in charge of the team that launched the company's first online offering in the 1990s.

Both Davis and Henderson praised Topping’s contribution over the years, which have seen the company establish itself as a leading iGaming operator through its William Hill Online joint venture with Playtech; enter the US market and build a presence in a number of international markets.

“On behalf of the board, I would like to thank Ralph for his 44 years of service to William Hill and his exceptional contribution and achievements,” Davis said of the departing CEO. “As chief executive, he has provided strong leadership and direction during challenging times, built a market leading digital business, extended the group’s international footprint and established a strong management team capable of sustaining that growth over the coming years.”

“Under Ralph as chief executive, the group is in the best competitive shape I have ever known and he has created, in my view, an unrivalled team with an outstanding track record,” Henderson added.

Henderson will receive a base salary of £550,000 per annum with effect from July 4th, and will be eligible to participate in the company’s annual bonus plan, executive bonus matching scheme and performance share plan.

He will relocate to take up the role, most likely moving to the company’s London offices, where Topping has been based. Currently he holds 63,038 William Hill shares in his own name, equivalent to less than 0.1 per cent of the the operator’s issued share capital.

Shares in William Hill plc (Co. Data) (LSE:WMH) commenced trading up 0.50 per cent at 338.10 pence per share in London this morning.