The business on...Ralph Topping, Chief executive, William Hill


Another example of how the bookie always wins?


Afraid so. Mr Topping was able to present the market with a strong set of results from William Hill yesterday – profits up 7 per cent to £277m – thanks to the World Cup and money it made in the gaming machines it has installed in many shops now.

These gains more than compensated for a less profitable run of horse racing results. One way or another, Mr Topping will have your money.

So how does he do it?

He knows the business better than almost anyone else you care to think of. He's now been at William Hill,barring a short break, for 40 years. He started out working part-time in a Glasgow shop on Saturday mornings in 1970 after realising his dad wasn't paying him enough pocket money to run his car.

So man and boy then?

More or less – that short break was to attend Strathclyde University, where he read English and law. For a while anyway: he dropped out before completing the course – "I was a bit of a rascal," he says – and went back to William Hill full-time. Having once thought he might be a teacher, he's been there ever since, finally making it to the top job in 2008.

He must love his racing?

Actually, he's more of a football fan. A lifelong supporter of Hibernian – much to the disappointment of his Hearts-mad granddad – he remains passionate about Scottish football and now serves as non-executive chairman of the Premier League in the country. Get him on to a conversation about the great Scottishplayers of yesteryear and you'll have a job getting him back off it.

Any other interests?

Well, there was a brief flirtation with politics – in the run-up to the election last year, Mr Topping signed the controversial round-robin letter from senior businessmen complaining about national insurance rises. And William Hill had a tie-up with the Monster Raving Loony Party that got its name printed on election ballot papers all over the country. But in fact, Mr Topping declares himself a neutral. Politics is a much less predictable game than bookmaking.

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