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Job In Focus - Q & A with James Henderson, William Hill director of retail, UK and international

02 April 2012

Q & A with James Henderson, 50, William Hill director of retail, UK and international

How long with Hills, and your background?
I've been with the company 27 years, starting as a Mecca Bookmakers trainee in the London Goldhawk Road shop. My passion at school, along with my studies, was racing. I followed along line of horseracing folk such as James Fanshawe, Michael and Rupert Bell and 'Sir' Robert Cooper. I got into the industry after hearing a radio advert for Mecca. It seemed an ideal way into racing and I enjoyed the betting-shop environment and people. My brother David is a trainer in the south of France and my son Nicholas is a stable lad for Noel Chance. So, one way or another, quite a few family members are involved in the industry.

Your view on the Budget?
We've all been left reeling by the Chancellor's shock 20 per cent rate on gaming machines. For the last three years both this government and the previous one committed to make the change to machine gaming duty revenue neutral and at the 11th hour they ignored that pledge and slapped a tax on us that will cost the bookmaking industry an estimated £48 million. I know a lot of hearts won't bleed for us on that but we already pay more in tax and levies than we make in profits. Last year we gothit by £9m extra on VAT and next year we're facing another hit.

What will be the impact of the proposed point of consumption tax?
There's a lot of talk on this but nothing very concrete yet. We're some way away if the government's to be believed and we've got consultations to go through. What's important is to make sure whatever regime is put in place is properly applied. We can't go back to a position of paying outa chunk of our profits if we're then competing with companies who keep operating from outside the new regime and aren't paying tax. Effective enforcement is our key message to government.

How was the Cheltenham Festival?
I didn't have a winner when I was there on the Tuesday and Wednesday, but then I'm generally a double-digit-odds punter. One favourite I saw as a banker was Hurricane Fly and I thought Terry Pattinson, our trading director, was bonkers going 5-4. He has learned to take no notice of me. For the firm overall it was a story of two good days and two bad ones.

What did you think of your Tony McCoy TV adverts with Kate Miller?
I liked his mixture of passion and matter-of-factness. It was a superb industry first, a 'live' advert that underlines differentiation and brand awareness. Kristof Fahy, our marketing director, and his team are doing a great job.

What's ahead for your shops?
We've signed a deal with gaming technologycompany Inspired and this will involve introducing marketing and reward cards for shop customers. A key element is that these cards are entirely anonymous but they'll allow customers to build up 'edges', such as no-zero roulette or the ability to peek at the dealer's hole card in blackjack.

What is your favourite racecourse?
Goodwood, partly because it was where my dad used to take me.

And least favourite?
I don't really have one, but I did prefer going to theold 'leafy Lingfield' before the all-weather was introduced. What about the William Hill Greyhound Derby and your Newcastle and Sunderland tracks? Joe O'Donnell runs both tracks extremely well. They're a great asset tous and greyhound racing. I had the honour of presenting our Derby trophy last year after Taylors Sky's victory, although I don't think I actually held the cup as it was grabbed by the owners in delirious excitement.

What do you think of Racing Post Greyhound TV?
I see this as a useful product to spread interest in greyhound racing and betting in the home. We're totally supportive.

What's your best sporting moment?
Geoffrey Boycott, my hero, scoring his 100th century in the 1977 Test against Australia at Headingley. That was a fantastic moment for a man whose technique and focus was extraordinary.

Who do you fancy for the John Smith's Grand National?
It would be tremendous to see Synchronised go for it. I think he can do it too.

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