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Hills chief Philip Bowcock to step down as bookmaker increases digital focus

Philip Bowcock: will work at the firm until the end of the year
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William Hill will have a new chief executive from the start of next month, with Philip Bowcock set to depart after the bookmaker decided it was the right time for a change in leadership.

Bowcock is to step down from the position he has held since 2016 on September 30 to be succeeded by the firm’s chief digital officer Ulrik Bengtsson.

The decision illustrates the company's increasing focus on online and international opportunities, especially those presented by the burgeoning legalisation of sports betting across the US.

Ulrik Bengtsson: will begin CEO role at the start of next month

Bowcock joined the bookmaker as chief financial officer in 2015, becoming interim chief executive in July 2016 and outright chief executive in March 2017. He will continue with the firm until the end of the year to assist with the transition, with William Hill chairman Roger Devlin describing the move as "perfectly amicable".

During his time at the helm Bowcock has had to deal with the ramifications of the government's crackdown on FOBTs following the Triennial Review, while also overseeing expansion in the US following the repeal of the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (Paspa) which had in effect prohibited sports betting.

Devlin told the Racing Post: "Philip has done a good job for the company in terms of leading us through some difficult times, most obviously the Triennial, and then the opportunities presented by the repeal of Paspa in the States but, on the back of our interims which were well received by the market, the board felt it was the right time to make this change."

He added: "It was by mutual consent. It is all perfectly amicable."

Bengtsson joined William Hill in April 2018 having previously been chief executive and president of Swedish gambling company Betsson for five years.

William Hill chairman Roger Devlin

Devlin said: "As far as we are concerned it is a seamless transition. Ulrik has been with us for 18 months, he's proven his skills in operations, in terms of international and in terms of his digital background and I think that is the key skill set we need going forwards."

William Hill have begun the process of closing 700 betting shops but Devlin said the appointment of digital specialist Bengtsson did not mean the retail estate would be neglected.

"There is absolutely no diminution in our commitment to the high street," he said. "Sadly the shop closure programme is in train post the Triennial but the performance of retail is actually slightly better than we anticipated.

"Nicola [Frampton] continues to do a great job in leading the transition of that business so it would be wrong to read into this anything other than we are solidly behind the retail business."

Bowcock said he believed William Hill was now "well placed".

He added: "Having recruited and worked with Ulrik for the last year and a half, I am confident he will take advantage of the opportunities ahead and we will see William Hill go from strength to strength."

Bengtsson said he was looking forward to taking on the role, adding: "We have a great opportunity to build William Hill as a digital and international business by driving online growth in the UK and internationally, growing a scale US business, remodelling retail and delivering our Nobody Harmed ambition."

Details of Bowcock's pay-off have yet to be announced, while Bengtsson will receive a base salary of £600,000 a year along with benefits, a pension allowance and participation in the annual bonus plan and long-term incentive awards.

Association of British Bookmakers chairman Paul Darling paid tribute to Bowcock following the announcement.

Darling said: "He made a unique contribution to the modernisation of the industry. His understanding of and support for the responsible gambling initiative was immense. He was a true visionary without whom the industry will be poorer."

Labour MP Conor McGinn paid tribute to Bowcock

Also paying tribute was Labour MP Conor McGinn who said: "Philip is hugely respected in Parliament for leading the industry in taking important steps to tackle problem gambling, and also for his strong support of sports like darts, boxing and horseracing at both elite and grassroots level.

"He brought a fresh and pragmatic approach at a difficult time for bookmakers, and I do hope his expertise and passion for responsible gambling sees him remaining in the industry."

Gavin Kelleher, analyst at stockbroker Goodbody, said Bowcock had been chief executive at William Hill during "an unprecedented period of regulatory and taxation changes".

Kelleher added: "The biggest achievement of his time as CEO will be seen as the progress the group has made in the US. CEO changes in this sector have often led to a period of uncertainty as extensive searches take time, so the seamless nature of this change will be welcome. 

"With the increased focus on digital and international diversification the appointment of Ulrik Bengtsson as CEO will not come as a major surprise."

Profile: Ulrik Bengtsson

Ulrik Bengtsson's appointment as chief executive designate of William Hill is a further sign of the changing face of the gambling industry.

The chief executives of the leading high-street bookmakers have always tended to come from Britain and Ireland rather than Sweden.

However, Bengtsson, 47, has a cosmopolitan background. He speaks Swedish, English, Danish, Norwegian and German and went to Dalhousie University in Halifax, Canada.

Before joining the gambling sector he spent three years with Norway-based telecommunications company Telenor Mobile and seven years with Swedish satellite and pay TV company Viasat Broadcasting.

In 2012 he became chief executive of Swedish gambling operator Betsson and during his five years at the helm the company made a number of acquisitions, including RaceBets.

However, in 2017 he left the company abruptly despite Betsson's board saying they were happy with both the company's results and strategy, although it was suggested there was disagreement between him and the chairman. 

In April 2018 he joined William Hill as chief digital officer, with oversight of the online business, together with global data, brand, marketing and customer service, a move which has paved the way to the top job at the company.

William Hill's share price was down 1p at 179p on Thursday afternoon.
Bill Barber: industry editor

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On the back of our interims which were well received by the market, the board felt it was the right time to make this change
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