James Moore: William Hill scrapes home by a nose

Outlook Talking of shareholder revolts, William Hill, became the latest victim yesterday.

The bookmaker's remuneration report scraped home by a nose, to use racing parlance. Rival bookie Bodog, which made Hill's third favourite to receive the biggest vote against pay at one of this week's AGMs, will need to update its odds after 49.9 per cent of Hill's shareholders said neigh.

The problem was created by a £1.2m retention bonus handed to chief executive Ralph Topping. Chairman Gareth Davies issued a strongly worded statement after the vote defending the payment and hinting darkly that the rebellion was all down to one of those dreadful organisations which advise shareholders on voting decisions.

Mr Topping differs sharply from many of the other executives whose packages have come under fire from their investors. For a start his company is performing rather well. The shares have recently been rising at the same sort of rate as Aviva's under Andrew Moss have been falling. Hill's makes healthy profits, pays a healthy dividend and generally does what it says on the tin.

Unlike, say, Bob Diamond at Barclays, who will almost certainly miss his own targets for return on equity, Mr Topping has been hitting his. And his business doesn't enjoy the benefit of a de facto state guarantee.

So the William Hill boss, by contrast to so many of his peers, is actually doing the job for which he was appointed, and doing it well.

But there's the rub. Should doing the job properly really require shareholders to pony up an additional £1.2m on top of everything else?

Mr Topping might have served shareholders well, but that cannot be so easily said of Mr Davies who doesn't appear to have realised that the world has changed.

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