The Business On... Ralph Topping, Chief Executive, William Hill

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The Independent Online

So it's bad news for punters?

Well, there's a reason this career bookmaker has reason to smile. Mr Topping was yesterday hailing William Hill's best-ever World Cup – not least because of England's atrocious performance. Did we mention that Mr Topping, who has been with the company since 1973, is a Scot who also just happens to be the chairman of the Scottish Premier League in his spare time?

Are there any crumbs of comfort for poor betting enthusiasts?

Well, there was Royal Ascot. A run of winning favourites turned a meeting that usually produces a good return for the turf accountants into something of a rout – and William Hill actually lost money. But aside from that one nasty, yesterday's trading statement showed that pretty much everything was running in the right direction for Hills and Mr Topping.

Oh, blast...

Quite. It has not been a lot of fun owning shares in bookies in recent years and Hills has had a number of problems, not least a malfunctioning online business. Mr Topping, not the first or even second choice to replace David Harding, was brought in to steady the ship and appears to have done just that. Even the online business has started to work.

How does he find time for the SPL?

That's anyone's guess. It's fair to say, though, that the self-declared "rascal" who quit university without a degree to enter the industry is rather fonder of footie than he is of the horses. Mr Topping has been a vocal critic of the racing industry, which is currently at loggerheads with bookmakers over how much they pay to keep the show on the road. The Ascot result means that won't be much this year, given it is currently based on 10 per cent of bookies' horseracing profits.

Any other business?

Mr Topping is a Hibernian fan, which might surprise those who know a thing or two about Scottish football. Of the two Edinburgh teams, Hibs are flashier. They favour attractive football but tend to be unpredictable – rather like Hills' great bookie rival Ladbrokes. William Hill is more like Heart of Midlothian: solid, conservative and a bit, well, dull.