William Hill CEO Search Nears End as Online Revival Begins

Updated on
  • New chief to be announced within a few weeks, chairman says
  • Shares gain as current trading shows signs of improvement

U.K. bookmaker William Hill Plc said its seven-month search for a new chief executive officer is entering the final stages and disclosed that its struggling U.K. online business is starting to turn the corner.

The company expects to announce the permanent successor to James Henderson in a few weeks, Chairman Gareth Davis said in a statement Friday, extending a search that started when Henderson was ousted in July. The shares rose as much as 5.4 percent in London, boosted by figures that showed an improvement in recent trading.

Finding a CEO is key as the bookmaker seeks to revive earnings, having largely missed out on a wave of consolidation sweeping across the gaming industry. One of the contenders is Finance Director Philip Bowcock, who has has been standing in at the helm while the search has progressed.

William Hill is seeing “encouraging signs” in all its divisions, Bowcock said Friday, singling out progress in the struggling U.K. online business, which he said is delivering “sustained growth.” Results for the first seven weeks of this year showed U.K. online sports wagering up 10 percent and gaming revenue up 8 percent, the company said.

“The online business seems to be back on track,” David Jennings, an analyst at Davy Stockbrokers, said in a note.

The shares were up 2 percent at 267 pence at 8:36 a.m. in London. They’re still down 8 percent this year, after a 27 percent drop in 2016, when the company foiled a bid by a group of rivals and held unsuccessful merger talks with Canada’s Amaya Inc.

Liverpool Losses

Sporting results, which went against the bookmaker in December, have been more favorable in January and February, Bowcock said. Drawn games and losses by some of the top Premier League soccer teams, particularly Liverpool, were beneficial, he said.

“The mighty Liverpool have done bookies a favor,” the acting CEO said in a phone interview, referring to a five-game winless run that ended with victory over Tottenham Hotspur in the team’s latest match.

William Hill said in January that earnings were hurt by a bad run of soccer and horse-racing results over Christmas. Adjusted operating profit for the year fell 10 percent to 261.5 million pounds ($328 million), the company announced Friday.

Among the main challenges for the new CEO will be to revive online growth, which stalled last year. The division’s net revenue fell 3 percent in 2016, and earnings dropped 20 percent. Bowcock said recent signs have been more positive, helped by improvements such as a faster load time for the bookmaker’s iPhone application.

Finding a deal is lower on the bookmaker’s priority list, according to Bowcock. “The key focus for the business is on delivering improvement in the numbers,” he said, when asked if the company is likely to jump on the bandwagon of industry consolidation.