William Hill could, in many ways, be a poster child for much of what ails corporate Britain.
The bookie, which has today installed former Ladbrokes man and Football Association director Roger Devlin as chairman, was just about the best in the business when Ralph Topping stepped down as CEO.
Sure, it wasn’t without its challenges, but it gave every impression of being able to meet them.
The person its board selected to do that was James Henderson, a 31 year veteran of the company.
It paid him £1.4m in 2014 and just over £900,000 in 2015, the sort of money CEOs expect before getting out of bed in the morning.
But all that “motivation” (even more was left on the table) didn’t do the company any good as it made a nasty habit of falling at its fences.
The nearly 2,500 strong estate of betting shops did well enough under Mr Henderson’s tenure, but fixed odds betting terminals made that easier than it might have looked.
The real problem was with online, the most important part of the business, which stalled. The website was rubbish. The introduction of a mobile new app fell flat.
Rivals completed deals (Ladbrokes with Coral and likely now GVC, Betfair with Paddy Power). Hill’s just made bad bets.
People connected to the business that I’ve spoken to say the cracks could be seen early on in Mr Henderson’s tenure. Rather than responding and admitting to a mistake, outgoing chairman Gareth Davis (paid just over £300,000) and his fellow non executive directors (just under £60,000 rising to nearly £90,000 for their part time roles) stuck with their man.
They finally pulled the plug after two years, by which time the company had fallen badly behind. Money for nothing then.
Can Mr Devlin do any better?
Along with CEO Philip Bowcock, the former finance director, who it’s fair to say wasn’t at the top of the board’s wish list to replace Mr Henderson, he has to plot a course through some very heavy ground.
The FOBT crutch, which has kept lots of betting shops ticking over, is set to be shortened with the Government consulting on cutting the maximum stake from £100 to between £2 and £50, with the smart money on a compromise of perhaps £20. Hill’s is working on a deal in Australia, but it’s small beer compared to what its rivals have been doing.
Mr Devlin, who has his fingers in many pies, but will give some of them up (including his job at the FA), acknowledged upon his appointment that the business faces “immediate challenges” but argued that it has “considerable medium and longer term opportunities” while gushing about the brand.
The latter is indeed still a powerful asset, but it’s not something to rely on. There are plenty of newish ones, which weren’t around five or ten years ago but have proved very effective at picking up the punter’s pound.
William Hill still has the kernel of a good business and Mr Devlin is justified in talking about opportunities, starting with the those offered by 2018 being a World Cup year.
What he and Mr Bowcok have to prove is that they can earn their outsized salaries by seizing them. Pulling off a decent sized deal would be a good place to start that process.