William Hill taps O’Reilly’s knowledge of rivals

William Hill taps O’Reilly’s knowledge of rivals

Wednesday, November 23, 2016 Posted by Andy McCarron
Non-exec posting might be more active than most

The appointment of John O’Reilly as a non-executive director at William Hill in mid-November marks something of a unique treble.

Having previously held positions as head of online at Coral and before that having spent 19 years at Ladbrokes, O’Reilly has done what in the gambling industry is a rare thing even among the lower ranks and switched jobs between fierce and unforgiving rivals.

It might be said that it is a measure of William Hill’s plight that it has taken O’Reilly on board at this moment in time. Much has been written about the miss-steps the company has made of late, with the profit warning in March, the subsequent departure of chief executive James Henderson, the near-instant rejection of the approach from 888 and Rank and then the bungled merger attempt with Amaya being among the year’s lowlights.

The criticism from major shareholder Parvus, particularly with regards to a perceived lack of sector expertise on the board, clearly hit home and the company has moved quickly to steady the ship, appointing not just O’Reilly but also Mark Brooker, formerly chief operating officer at Betfair.

Now attention turns to William Hill’s prospects for the year ahead. Sources suggested to TotallyGaming.com that the new non-execs clearly have their work cut out. The troubles for William Hill aren’t a new development and indeed stretch back to the reign of previous chief executive Ralph Topping with the disastrous Trafalgar project. Trumpeted as an overhaul of William Hill’s whole technology infrastructure, Trafalgar turned out to be a battle that William Hill couldn’t win and the company has paid the price ever since in lost momentum.

This will be familiar territory to O’Reilly. He worked on Ladbrokes’s online business pretty much since inception in the late 1990s and left in 2010 when the operation notched up revenues at £169.4m and crucially operating profits hit a peak of £62.7m.

As an independent entity the company never recovered these online heights. First under Richard Glynn and then subsequently with Jim Mullen in the chief executive hot seat, the digital arm went through a succession of relaunches and ultimately at the point of the merger with Coral produced an operating loss of £23.6m

By this point, O’Reilly had long before switched to Coral where he helped steer that company’s own recovery job as head of online based in Gibraltar. Coral switched at the time to the OpenBet platform and, crucially, it also integrated the sportsbook into the Playtech back office, delivering a much-improved single wallet experience for the customer. The real-time focus on the customer meant that by the time of the Ladbrokes Coral merger, the Coral online business was by far the more dynamic and profitable of the pair.

Totally Gaming says: Traditionally non-executive directors are not of the interventionist type, however, there is every indication that O’Reilly intends to be more active than most. William Hill online is a business where a turnaround is needed and quick. The rivals, including the newly-merged Ladbrokes Coral but more a particularly Paddy Power Betfair, bet365 and Sky Betting & Gaming, are moving ahead at pace and the remedial work will need to be swift if William Hill isn’t to fall too far behind.

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