With over 45 years experience at William Hill, former CEO, Ralph Topping talks through his career highlights with SBC’s Managing Director, Andrew McCarron.
Inducted into the Hall of Fame at September’s SBC Summit Barcelona Digital, Topping reflected on the movement of the online sector, ground-breaking partnerships, the opening up of the US and William Hill’s trading announcements on the stock market.
In 2008 Topping became CEO of William Hill and shortly after acquired Stanley Leisure shops, a move that coincided with the beginning of the venture into the online sector. A tumultuous and new period for the industry with Topping recalling that: “We kind of lost our way a bit on the web business where we had originally been the leaders in the UK. We were going to build our own technology and, to be quite frank, we failed at it. There was a need to stop, take a breath and decide where we were going and how we were going to develop our online business.
“We saw the opportunity going across fertilisation between retail and online, we thought we were in a really good position to take advantage of that. But yeah, different kinds of customers, different kinds of expectations. It’s almost a perfect market for any punter, for online. You can move from organisation to organisation. Much more sophisticated clients but that was the nature of the beast.”
The acquisition later led to a groundbreaking deal with Playtech, the likes for which the industry had never seen before, in which the software company took a 29% share of William Hill online. “It was a good deal for both companies. Great deal for William Hill, great deal for Playtech because it really established them in the UK and in Europe I think.”
William Hill was one of the first licensed bookmakers in the US entering the market in 2012 ahead of the repeal of PASPA, the bookmaker having bought three betting businesses stateside, put them underneath the William Hill brand. A gamble which paid off.
“I said the only way we can swing this with the board I think is to make the case for going to the states because at some point we were going to end up in the states let’s get the licencing.” Topping noted. “Let’s be the first bookmakers to be licenced in Nevada. Let’s buy the three businesses and meld them into one and we can have a really profitable business.
“The easiest part was convincing the board that we should do it, we got their support and that’s history now. I think it gave William Hill a great advantage when the repeal of PASPA happened. It gave them a huge opportunity in the states to crack on.”
One of the highlights of Topping’s tenure was William Hill’s trading announcements on the stock market and the demand it called for quarterly improvements, with Topping stating the experience was: “A pain in the backside at times and I don’t think you’ll meet a CEO of a listed company who doesn’t say that it is. Its mind numbing, in many respects. If you’re growing and the business is developing quickly then it makes the whole experience ok. It wasn’t a great hardship at all.
“My fundamental was: always be honest with your board and with your shareholders, especially your larger shareholders and try and give them an insight into what you’re thinking and what may happen in six months down the line.”
By the end of Topping’s tenure in 2014 the value of William Hill had quadrupled.
Want to find out how Topping got his start in industry? The ways in which customers have changed over the years and who Topping thinks will be the future Hall of Fame inductees? Click here to see our full interview.