William Hill ends ‘challenging year’ without new CEO

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William Hill’s eight month search for a new chief executive is set to continue, even as the company admitted that that its performance over the 2016 financial year was “below the board’s expectations”.

The company has been without a permanent leader since James Henderson was removed in July in response to the board’s dissatisfaction with the company’s stalling online growth.

As the Financial Times reported earlier this week, Philip Bowcock, the finance head who the interim chief executive, has become the clear favourite to take the job, but the board decided to hold off making a final decision.

On Friday, William Hill chair Gareth Davis, who has led the search for a new chief executive, said:

At the outset of the CEO process, we made it clear that we would carry out a thorough search and that it could take some time. I am pleased to say that we are now entering the final stages and expect to complete an announcement in a few weeks’ time.

Several people briefed on the succession discussions said the company’s largest shareholder, the hedge fund Parvus Asset Management, as well as some board members, had expressed doubts about Mr Bowcock’s suitability for the role given his inexperience in the gambling sector. He joined William Hill in November 2015 having been chief financial officer at Cineworld.

Parvus, which has publicly advocated for a sale of the group this year, has declined to comment on the CEO search.

The company will remain under pressure to settle the matter after a “challenging year” of trading. On Friday, reporting results for the year ended December 27, the bookmaker said net revenues had increased 1 per cent to £1.6 billion, with pre-tax profits up 1 per cent to £225.6m.

But adjusted operating profits were £261.5m for the year, a 10 per cent fall compared to the previous year.

In January, the company gave its second profit warning in 12 months, reporting that 2016 operating profits would be “at the bottom end” of its previous guidance of £260m-£280m.

The company said it has set new strategic priorities in its efforts to return to stronger growth. This includes continued investments in products and marketing in the UK, a programme to build a “global technology platform” over the next three years, and a cost-cutting programme intended to find £40m in savings to fund investments.

Photo: David Parry/FT

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