The most recent entry of Ralph Topping’s personal blog is a wonderful collection of words on the former Manchester United and Scotland manager Sir Alex Ferguson. Two of Topping’s passions are Scotland and football, and as the non-executive Chairman of the Scottish Premier League (SPL), you can understand why his words feel like they have come from the heart. But there might be another reason that Ferguson was at the forefront of Topping’s mind. As Ferguson pondered his decision to leave a position that he had nurtured and cared for during the past 27-years, Topping was mulling over the same thoughts for his tenure as the CEO of William Hill.
Topping has been a member of the William Hill team for 40-years, during which time he has taken bets from Sir Alex Ferguson when working in the Victoria Road branch in Glasgow of Mecca Bookmakers (later to become William Hill). Ferguson called Topping ‘son,’ the Glasgow term for a callow youth with a name unknown to a stranger. The ‘son’ went on a journey that took him from the grass roots to the pinnacle of his company. From taking a small bet from Sir Alex to negotiating deals worth £450m. But all good things come to an end, and it was widely believed the end for Topping was going to come at the end of the year. Unlike Fergie, Topping believes he has a few years left in him.
At the recent Annual General Meeting of William Hill PLC (WH) the Chairman Gareth Davis announced that Topping had indicated his desire to continue his work as Chief Executive until at least the end of 2015.
“The Board is pleased to announce today that Ralph Topping has indicated his desire to continue as Chief Executive until at least the end of 2015. At the time of announcing in June 2011 that we would be retaining Ralph’s services until at least the end of 2013, I indicated the critical importance of keeping him in the business given his extensive experience over 43 years with William Hill. I am delighted he plans to stay longer as I believe he remains uniquely qualified to lead the Group through this ongoing transformational period, particularly to maximize the opportunities in Australia and in digital.
“The Board is delighted that Ralph will remain with the Group for the coming years as we continue to manage the succession planning for the Chief Executive role. Our preference is always to look internally first for candidates and we are developing a cadre of talented senior management. At the same time, we are continuing to scan the external market to ensure we have the widest range of options open to us at the appropriate time.”
Topping replied in kind: “ “I am very pleased by the progress we have made at William Hill over the last five years and the value we have generated for shareholders. We now have significant opportunities to transform this business, with more of our revenues and profits than ever before coming from online, from mobile and from international territories. I am confident we have the management team in place to deliver further value and am delighted to continue to lead this team at such an exciting stage in William Hill’s growth and development.”
It has been a successful 12-months for William Hill, with 2012 revenues up 12%, operating profit up 20% and the full year dividend per share up 17%. It has also been a busy period with two major pieces of negotiation being resolved with the acquisition of Sportingbet Australia, and the buyout of Playtech’s holdings in William Hill Online (WHO).
The decision by Topping to extend his stay at the top is just the icing on the cake.