Posted by Ralph Topping | Employees, Industry Coverage, Recent Posts | one comment
I’m 40 years with the company on Tuesday, Sept 3. 43.5 years actually but I had a month or two away in my youth so I somehow lost three years of my “Saturday boy” service!
It was great in my fortieth year to see the org re-enter the FTSE100 and also to win an award as the best CEO in the Leisure Sector. The CEO of a bookmaking company winning this was a first but really the team I have built in the last six years deserves equal recognition as we have made huge advances as a team across many fronts.
As you’ll have gathered from my previous blogs, I do a lot of travelling these days, which I enjoy. Years ago the longest journey for me was Glasgow to Inverness when I managed the Scottish region. About a six-hour round trip if you included a tasty bacon roll and coffee on the way up at the House of Bruar on the A9.
The longest journey today is Glasgow to Sydney via Dubai. I’ll be in Sydney on the day of my 40th anniversary for a business review with CEO Michael Sullivan. I leave on Sunday morning thus giving up a weekend with the grandkids but I’m looking forward to sitting down with our teams down under. I’ll be spending a chunk of time while I’m there with Michael and I will also be seeing people new to our org, including Tom Waterhouse and his management team.
It’s a treat to add to Hills a person with a bookmaking and business pedigree like Michael Sullivan. He has personality, aura and battle scars in abundance which younger people need to both see and learn from in a leader. He has been tested in battle in the betting industry and proven himself time and time again.
Tom Waterhouse is also from a bookmaking background and like Michael took to the internet like a duck to water. Michael and Tom will be a fantastic combination in the Australian market. Could they both go further at Hills? Yes. Why? Lots of reasons, but principally that not many people in our sector have experience of having built businesses like they have. They and the young digital squad of Aussies being assembled in Sydney will build a very strong digital business in Australia over the next period. It will in time I believe prove to be the equal of, maybe better than, the Gibraltar-based team.
Good managers, like good teachers, stick in the memory. I worked with some very good managers in my early days. Like Nora Smyth who ran the Victoria Road shop on the south side of Glasgow. I learned loads from Nora about how to run a betting shop and create an environment where people on both sides of the counter enjoyed the experience. Her people skills were immense. I sussed early on that William Hill is a business defined by the quality of our people. It’s our biggest strength.
Over the years, I was thrown in at the deep end quite a few times in new jobs and very quickly had to learn what it took to succeed. Much was learned from previous bosses and also from some very wise colleagues. Some of the views and attitudes of some of the early influencers on me inevitably rubbed off. Some I ignored or discounted as I am my own man, have my own views and stay true to my own principles, no matter the personal cost at times.
One attitude I acquired from many of my predecessors was that in a senior role it had to be company first at all times. Work/life balance was and is an alien concept. Some say they acquired this attitude from William Hill himself. Judging from quotes I’ve seen, I think it may be true. Eighty years after he started the business, that connection back to the man William Hill remains important to many of us in the company today. It must never be forgotten in my view.
Perhaps it’s unsurprising but when you’ve started at the bottom and given a lifetime to the business, you end up feeling – and being seen – more like an owner than a CEO. But that’s about more than longevity. It’s about how you relate to people at all levels, from Jimmy the barista in the Sydney office right through to my senior team, most of whom I’ve employed. Any of them will tell you, I’m not a distant CEO. Not a figurehead either. I pick up the phone and talk to a lot of people across and down the business every day. And I travel constantly to stay close and in touch with colleagues.
I can easily say I have loved every year of my time in bookmaking (though perhaps not every day or every week!) and William Hill remains a seven day a week devotion for me. William Hill has a great culture which we’ve worked very hard to change and build. I am very proud of that culture.
William Hill is these days a complicated business, more complicated than many first imagine, with many moving parts but with experienced, top notch and unique characters in its management. William Hill can’t be quickly summarised for newcomers. It can’t be skimmed over either. It is not an ordinary company. It has to be fully experienced and that takes time, inclination and real effort. Our team by and large comprises the best there is in the sector. A superb team who have, in turn, built their own superb teams. They will have many challenges and opportunities ahead but they will continue to be supported and encouraged by the William Hill board as has been the case for a long, long time.
The global world of gambling William Hill inhabits is changing very quickly, opening up opportunities for companies and talented individuals. The next three or four years could be exciting for everyone at Hills given our growth and forward trajectory, with opportunities in the UK, the US and Australia. There’s a lot to look forward to with this team. It is very capable of growing real upside for investors in the next five years which I expect it will for some important reasons. Once anyone has worked in a top flight, successful team you never want the experience to end and our team have every reason to see the job through – perhaps of course the job never ends! Where else would anyone want to be as long as the grass remains as green as it has been at William Hill?
I read a book many years ago entitled “Laidlaw” by Scottish author William McIlvanney, brother of the sports journalist Hugh. A passage from it summarises better than I could ever do what it takes to make a business fire and why a certain type of individual is required at the top in our business.
‘…..there are two basic kinds of professional,’ Harkness said in a moment of self-congratulatory illumination. ‘There’s the professionalism that does something well enough to earn a living from it. And there’s the professionalism that creates a commitment so intense that the earning of a living happens by the way. Its dynamic isn’t wages but the determination to do something as well as it can be done.’
Luckily, in our executive team we have more than a few people who subscribe to that philosophy, those who do it for more than the money or status, and it shows in what they have achieved and are achieving. This level of commitment is certainly manifesting itself in Australia, the same as elsewhere in the Group and our senior team is supporting Michael and people like Tom to ensure that it develops and grows. That means, along with other key colleagues, I’m going to be in Sydney regularly. We make money through the efforts of committed people, so getting to know them is part of the process and part of our formula for success. It takes time and commitment. It can’t be skimmed over.
The only shame in all this travelling is that there’s a total absence of Ayrshire bacon rolls at Dubai and the coffee is of terrible quality as well! You can’t beat the House of Bruar for a bacon roll and coffee combo.
Thanks to everyone, past and present, for the support, kindness and respect shown to me in the last 40 (i.e., 43 and a half) years in all my many roles. Here’s very definitely to the times ahead. Once a Hills man, always a Hills man is what I was told by one of my colleagues four decades ago. Guess he was right.