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Last Updated: Sunday, 25 July, 2004, 14:23 GMT 15:23 UK
Betting on the biggest chess game in town
David Harding - CEO William Hill
Mr Harding says he's playing 'the biggest game in town'
After an early career with Jaguar cars, William Hill chief executive David Harding spent several years as a consultant, specialising in strategic marketing and boosting the performance of various businesses.

Further diverse career moves followed in telecoms, electronic trading and even pensions before becoming chief executive of Scottish Amicable.

He joined the betting group in 2000, before taking it public two years later.

What was your first car?

It was a Morris Minor, the only car I could ever service myself.

I really wanted a Porsche, but I had to wait until I was 47 before I could afford that.

What was your first job?

I delivered flyers for the local supermarket. I had to stamp them with the address then deliver them.

I got paid 10 shillings per 1,000 as I recall, but then it was a long time ago.

What was your first house?

A bungalow that cost 33,000. I had to borrow the 3,000 deposit from my mother in law, but the downside was that I had to live in the next street.

Who is your biggest inspiration?

Gandhi. I'm immensely impressed by people of integrity who have imposed their will on the world - as opposed to the occasional bully who misuses power.

Any time I feel I'm pushing water uphill I try to think about someone like him.

Someone once told me that "the difference between perseverance and obstinacy is one comes from a strong will and the other a strong won't".

I have it on a card in my wallet along with a few other quotes to give myself a kick when I need one.

What's the best bit of business advice you've had?

Keep it simple. Complexity adds cost, conflict and c**k-ups.

What's the biggest challenge facing business now?

Keeping the water flowing while I change a few pipes.

We have some major technology programmes which will result in a lot of changes to peoples' jobs and large training exercises; at the same time we're continually introducing new channels and new products, which is changing the way our customers view us and do business with us, and all the while we're operating in a changing regulatory and fiscal environment.

We have to manage all this change without missing our growth and profitability targets.

What can the government do to boost business?

Keep it simple. If this applies in business, it applies in spades to government.

In business, complexity adds layers and layers of middle management who all define work as sitting in front of a PC, moving half-finished files between each other, justifying their existence by making things ever more complex.

But at least in business the profit and customer satisfaction motive eventually means that someone will arrive at the top to clear out such introspective bureaucracy.

In government, the only motive of those at the top is to get re-elected, and they'd rather find a simple silver bullet message to achieve that than sort out the civil service or really drive through culture change.

What business story has grabbed your interest recently?

Obviously, just now I'm as intrigued by the shenanigans around the M&S bid as everyone else, but that will soon get sorted one way or another.

Over a longer period I've been fascinated by the business consequences of the convergence of computing, telecommunications and entertainment ever since I was director of operations at Mercury one2one.

It's a truly global issue and many large players are having to commit huge amounts of capital, often gambling on what will emerge as a standard, or on how consumer behaviour will change.

There have been and will be more spectacular successes and failures. And its not just the global players like Microsoft and News Corp, but many smaller firms manage to find and exploit niche opportunities.

Business is often a big chess game, and this is the biggest in town.

What was the proudest moment of your career?

Until six months ago I would have said it was taking ShareLink through the London Stock Exchange's "Big Bang" systems changes of CREST and SETS.

We were the largest private client stockbroker and represented a large chunk of the exchanges volume, but we had hopelessly manual procedures and by the time I joined were way behind on our technology programme.

Everyone kept telling me it couldn't be done, and the regulator would have closed us down were it not for the fact there was nowhere else for the business to go at that time.

But we persevered and emerged stronger than we went in.

Now I would have to say it was having William Hill admitted into the FTSE 100 just two years after our flotation.

William Hill logo
Gaming group William Hill has undergone a number of changes since it was founded by William Hill himself in 1934.

The company - which now has 1,600 betting shops around the UK - handles an average of 889,000 betting slips per day in its shops, on the phone and over the Internet.

By the end of 2003, it had a workforce of 10,699 employees and a market capitalisation of 2.2bn.


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