The appointment of Philip Bowock from interim to permanent CEO at William Hill has not come without its critics, nor will it be without challenges for the relatively inexperienced chief exec.
After a weary nine months of searching for a chief executive, and amidst mounting challenges for the firm, British bookmaker William Hill has settled on the controversial appointment of interim CEO Philip Bowcock.
The decision comes despite Bowcock not originally being considered a contender, and against objections from certain board members as well as the company’s largest shareholder Parvus Asset Management.
Doubts about the appointment are understood to relate to a lack of industry experience.
Having previously worked as CFO at Cineworld before joining William Hill in November 2015, Bowcock has only 18 months tenure in the gambling business, and mostly on-thejob experience in digital sales – a sluggish division which the bookmaker is at pains to revive.
Hill’s now-outgoing CEO, Gareth Davis, had initially stated he would be looking externally, for someone steeped in both gambling industry and tech sector experience.
Nine months later however, Davis deems to have had the right man all along. “We saw a lot of people but Philip was the standout candidate,” said the chairman. “There’s obviously still a lot to do, but the pace of delivery under Philip’s leadership in what has been a challenging period has been extremely impressive.”
The bookmaker’s last set of financials showed positive signs of life at the back end of 2016, yet the company still has a mountain to climb. Hill must weather what many now believe to be a sharp reduction in stakes on B2 machines, a product on which Hill relies more than most.
While building on the more positive online growth seen in recent months is also paramount.
A large-scale tie up with another sizeable and more digital firm could kill both birds, softening the blow of the former while kickstarting the latter. And with both Amaya and 888 both understood to be eyeing up mega mergers with sports betting brands, William Hill finds itself back in pole position for a resuscitative deal.
Yet Bowcock suggests a “material transaction” is not his priority. “There is more shareholder value in the short term through making our business better and driving market share,” he says.
Whether Bowcock is the man for the job remains to be seen, and yet the challenges he faces may be all the more difficult to surmount without unity at the top table – a bind for which Bowcock himself can hardly be to blame.
Asides from the operational and regulatory difficulties ahead, several of the external candidates to have rebuffed Hill’s job offers are understood to have cited a clear lack of succession planning and potential difficulties in working with members of the current leadership team.
With a divided board and an irascible lead shareholder (reported to have been pushing Hill towards a sale), Bowcock might be forgiven for failure. He may however find fame for even a modicum of success.