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Job in focus - John Haddock

13 February 2015

PROMOTING from within was always the Liverpool way, but it's also core to Betfred and the best example is John Haddock, 52, who was appointed chief executive last year.

"I started at Ladbrokes as a shop manager in Altrincham, then joined Fred Done in 1986 when he had just over 25 shops," says Haddock over a coffee from the Racing Post Cafe at Ice last week.

"It was the best thing I ever did and it's been a wonderful ride - yet, when Fred looks back now, all he was trying to do was feed his kids! We've all grown up together and it's a genuine family here."

Done, now 71, asked Haddock to take an even wider role and effectively run the entire business on a day-to-day basis, and Haddock similarly wants to seek out talent internally.

Retail managing director Mark Stebbings is further evidence of that policy. Haddock says: "He has been with us 22 years, I recruited him first as a cashier, then a shop manager, and he continued to progress.

"I gave Mark the job of taking on Fred's famous 7.30am Saturday morning meetings - where our management team kick around ideas. It's working well, both Fred and myself are pleased."

Stebbings explains: "All the regional directors and heads of department sit down together every Saturday. It's a strategic open forum. With John the important thing is you know where you stand."

Haddock adds: "It's a 24/7 life for us all, our own families are used to it, and it's core to us. Our objective now is to expand the business further, look after all our people and promote further from within. There's nothing better than getting out on the shop floor, talking to staff and customers. It keeps me grounded."

Betfred now have 1,438 shops (1,375 shops on the high street, the rest on the racecourse) and the Tote integration is complete. "It's been a great buy, especially for the shops in the London area," says Haddock.

"It will be four years in June - and Joe Scanlon [former Tote managing director] continues to be a great help and sits on the board. Joe also attends SIS and Bags board meetings on behalf of Betfred.

"Also reporting to me is Phil Siers [chief commercial officer] and Rakesh Chablani [digital MD] and we're all going to be totally focused on the festival.

"Cheltenham is massive and a lot of work goes into the basics, the look and feel to the outside world. You walk the course, talk to the management there - we get on really well with Cheltenham - and get as close as possible to it."

Mark Pearson, Betfred head of media, says: "Cheltenham is the week of the year and we want to make Betfred TV feel as if you were at the racecourse, bringing as much of the experience as possible into the shops.

"We have three channels and Cheltenham will be on the main one throughout. Derek Thompson, Tanya Stevenson and Richard Johnson, plus Fred and myself will be making it unmissable, whether it's the actual racing, post-race analysis or the pushes and other offers to our customers that will make Betfred stand out. It's what's Fred's all about - we don't cry either if the punter wins."

Cheltenham is also the home of Ladbrokes' reigning Racing Post/SIS manager of the year Adam Hurley, who admits it hurts to see Betfred sponsoring the Gold Cup.

"It's a friendly rivalry, but I hate it! Of course we do have the World Hurdle," he says.

Done himself believes the favourite will get turned over. "Silviniaco had his chance last year," he says firmly, yet with what also sounds wishful thinking.

"Jonjo has always been a particular friend and nothing would delight [wife] Mo and myself more than handing over the trophy to my mate. At 14-1 his Holywell is my pick."

Haddock adds: "The first time we sponsored the Gold Cup, Fred came into the box at the top of the stand, stood on the balcony and saw the Betfred name splashed all over Cheltenham. He says it was 'the pinnacle', and it was. It felt so special.

"We want Betfred TV to go for it, to show our personality, what makes us tick."

HADDOCK has backed Betfred TV with real conviction in order to stand out in a crowded marketplace, yet he's conscious the week will also be a Champions League one.

"Football is growing, punters love the intensity, the competitiveness and the range of bets like Goals Galore. It puts racing under pressure and that's a key challenge for [BHA chief executive] Nick Rust.

"It's good to have a bookmaker like him at the centre of racing and Nick's an interesting guy who looks at things from both sides of the fence. His appointment came as a surprise, but it can prove an intelligent one.

"People want to bet on races with ten or 12 runners, but racing is not even delivering eight runners on key Saturdays. It's crazy - and we all need to sit down and discuss it.

"Let's look at everything - the number of fixtures and what we all need to do to make the field sizes right - otherwise racing will continue to dwindle."

Social responsibility is now at the forefront of bookmaking. Haddock believes "one problem gambler is one too many and Betfred is spending £1 million on staff training - spotting the trends that lead to problem gambling".

Betfred prefer to remain outside the ABB and the recently launched Senet Group. "We follow everything closely and do support what they do, but we've always proactively preferred to speak with a separate Betfred voice, making our points directly to key people.

"We said we would see how Senet develops. They have made a good start and we've got right behind the campaign. Fred has been hammering 'use your head' and also to 'keep it fun'.

"We've agreed to do the same as everyone else and not promote gaming machines in windows."

At the same time Haddock pledged to continue to build relationships with racecourses in the role of Totepool being 'racing's bookmaker'.

"We're sitting down with them and spending on facilities," he adds.

Yet Chester, Bangor and Ripon have gone it alone with their own SP-based operation, despite criticism that there is no tote facility and the value is often poor. Haddock says: "That's a matter for them, it's not as easy as people think, being a bookmaker, and it's a shame their customers at those tracks can't do Scoop6, Placepots or Jackpots unless they do them in a shop on the way to the course. Punters do love those bets and will be missing out."

There has not been a Betfred shop in the centre of Chester but that will be put right in time for the Guineas. Impressive new premises have been secured in Foregate Street, where work is starting shortly. Haddock adds: "The Scoop6 and Totepool have gone from strength to strength and we were all delighted with the recent Hall Green greyhound jackpot - to get close to £1m was something that would not have been imagined a year ago and shows the potential, and what Betfred can deliver.

"We're also very keen about RPGTV and want to develop the Barking 7 [a seven-race jackpot] concept, as well as streaming content on to our website."

Betfred is now a racecourse operator too and Haddock is delighted with Chelmsford City.

He says: "It's started off very well, with 3,000 there for the first Sunday. Yes, there's still work to do around the edges, and the weather hasn't been on our side, but we're very pleased with what Phil Siers and Joe Scanlon have achieved there.

"But most important of all is Cheltenham. I want people to come into our shops or visit our website, take a look at the offering, and enjoy our build-up every day now for the next six weeks, then the week itself. Our people are getting stuck into making it special for everyone."

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