Gaming-Sector Novice Wins Long Race for William Hill CEO Job

Updated on
  • Bowcock chosen after search delayed by takeover developments
  • Former finance chief was ‘standout candidate,’ chairman says

New William Hill Plc Chief Executive Officer Philip Bowcock, appointed permanently to the role after an eight-month search, is tasked with continuing the 83-year-old bookmaker’s nascent turnaround despite limited industry experience.

Bowcock, who hadn’t worked in the betting industry before joining William Hill as chief financial officer in 2015, beat at least 10 other candidates to land the job, Chairman Gareth Davis said Friday. The 48-year-old succeeds James Henderson, who was ousted in July after the company’s online betting operations fell behind rivals.

Philip Bowcock

Source: William Hill Plc

“We saw a lot of people, but he was the standout candidate,” Davis said by phone. “His leadership has shone through in a challenging period and the board were absolutely unanimous that he’s the right man for the job.”

A turnaround of the online business is underway, according to the new CEO, a former finance director of cinema owner Cineworld Group Plc whose challenges include a government review of betting-shop gambling machines that has the potential to damage industry earnings when its outcome is announced in coming months.

“There’s a long way to go still, but we’ve come a long way,” Bowcock said of the online business. “This time last year, the sports book was going backwards by 5 percent. We just announced that for the first seven weeks of this year it’s gone forward by 10 percent.”

Davis said the search for Henderson’s replacement was delayed by a takeover bid from 888 Holdings Plc and Rank Group Plc only days after Bowcock was appointed to the role in an acting capacity last year. After seeing off that approach, William Hill held merger discussions with PokerStars owner Amaya Inc. of Canada, which also came to nothing.

“For 14 or 15 weeks, the whole process was on ice,” Davis said. “So we didn’t really get stuck into it until about October time. While on paper it looks a long time, I can assure you it went very quickly.”

‘Outstanding Job’

Davis said Bowcock did “an outstanding job” of presenting William Hill’s full-year results and managing the ensuing investor roadshow last month, which helped his case.

William Hill shares rose 1.5 percent to 273.6 pence at 9:53 a.m. in London as analysts welcomed the conclusion of the process, despite misgivings about Bowcock’s short resume in the bookmaking business.

“While the board would probably have preferred to find a candidate with more gaming-industry experience, the reality is that this search has gone on far too long,” said David Jennings, an analyst at Davy Stockbrokers. “William Hill needed to provide certainty to its employees and the market and this appointment achieves both. As such, we think it is a positive development.”

Bowcock will start in his new role immediately, the company said. His basic salary will be raised by 9 percent to 600,000 pounds ($730,000) a year.

(Updates with chairman’s comment in eighth paragraph.)
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