Betfair hires Corbett to mend fences with City

Betfair, the beleaguered betting company, yesterday made a further move to rehabilitate its battered image in the City with the appointment of Gerald Corbett, the serial non-executive director and City veteran, as deputy chairman.

Mr Corbett will step up to become chairman in the first quarter of next year, which will bring the company into compliance with the combined code on corporate governance.

He will replace Ed Wray, the company's charismatic, if somewhat controversial, co-founder who is currently at the helm and played a key role in the flotation.

The appointment of Mr Corbett follows the company's poaching of Paddy Power's chief operating officer, Breon Corcoran, to replace David Yu as its chief executive.

That was seen a smart move. Mr Corcoran had a key role overseeing Paddy Power's highly successful online offering and was seen as perhaps the best gambling industry candidate for the job of helping Betfair overcome a string of challenges.

They include a tough regulatory environment combined with intense competition, and City disappointment with the company's earnings and share price performance. The stock has fallen by more than 40 per cent from Betfair's £13 flotation price.

Mr Corbett, however, is not quite such an easy sell. He is greatly experienced and Betfair was at pains to point out yesterday that he had been a director of 11 public companies, four of them as chairman. However, while his career has certainly had its ups it has also had some deep downs as well.

On the plus side, he oversaw the sale last year of the Durex maker SSL International to the household products group Reckett Benckiser for £2.5bn, widely seen as a dream deal for SSL's shareholders.

However, he was chairman of Woolworths for six years following its demerger from Kingfisher, during which time the seeds of the once iconic retailer's eventual collapse under a mountain of debt were sown.

He also managed Railtrack, the track operating company, through a series of crises and ultimately resigned – with a controversial £1m payout – in 2000, not long after the Hatfield Crash which resulted in the deaths of four passengers.

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