William Hill CEO Ousted as U.K. Bookmaker Struggles Online

  • Board made decision to replace James Henderson, chairman says
  • Departure mainly due to online betting underperformance

William Hill Plc Chief Executive Officer James Henderson was ousted after almost two years in the role, paying the price for the U.K. bookmaker’s struggle to keep pace in the fast-growing world of online betting.

The board made the decision to replace Henderson and has engaged an international search firm to find his successor, Chairman Gareth Davis said by phone. Henderson will depart immediately, ending a more than 30-year career at the bookmaker.

The decision mainly reflects the company’s recent underperformance in online betting, Davis said. William Hill launched a new web platform and mobile application last year, though ran into difficulties that led to a slowdown in betting growth. The company cut profit guidance in March after new rules made it easier for online gamblers to take a breather from their wagers.

“Online is such a huge bellwether and as market leader we have high expectations,” Davis said. “We have stalled abruptly and lost share significantly in the last year or so.”

William Hill shares rose as much as 8.9 percent in London after the company confirmed its previously reduced goal for full-year operating profit of 260 million pounds ($343 million) to 280 million pounds. The gain was the steepest since March 1, 2013 and trimmed the stock’s decline this year to 25 percent.

“The board has taken bold, but necessary action,” Simon French, an analyst at Cenkos Securities, said in a note. Still, a leadership vacuum could lead to further financial underperformance, he said.

Henderson will be replaced on an interim basis by Chief Financial Officer Philip Bowcock, who Davis said will be among those considered for the permanent CEO role. Bowcock joined William Hill in November, having previously been CFO of Cineworld Plc. He will present the bookmaker’s first-half results on Aug. 5.

There’s a “strong probability” that the company will choose an external candidate “with a digital and/or international skill set,” Davis said, adding that the search could take a year, and possibly longer. “I’m not planning on it being a quick appointment,” he said.

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