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Keith throws hat into Ladbrokes ring

15 January 2015

BEN KEITH, cut to 4-1 (from 16-1) over the weekend in Paddy Power’s market on the next Ladbrokes chief executive, has thrown his hat into the ring saying the task involves putting “the magic back into the ‘Sign’”.

Keith, who has bet on-course and runs Star Racing, described himself as holding a high level of emotional intelligence and able to get the best out of people from all walks of life.

Musing informally about what might happen, he said his life “is the betting industry. I eat, breathe and sleep the betting game”.

He added: “I’m a proper bookmaker, not ‘a suit’, and it all depends what sort of route the Ladbrokes chairman and board wish to go down.

“If they want a street-fighter, I’m their man, if they want an MBA [master of business administration], well I’m sure they will have plenty of options.

Ben Keith - Star Racing
Ben Keith: “If they want a street-fighter, I’m their man”

“There’s a lot of emphasis about what Ladbrokes have or haven’t done on the net, whereas I think the issue is more the markets they are in.

“There is inadequate margin in the UK business, whether the shops or online. The real margin is international, in China and other jurisdictions. But Ladbrokes, although an institution I have respected almost all of my life, now seems to apply a holier than thou attitude, and it is that which is leaving them behind.

“Are ‘we’ some sort of government-run NHS, or do you want to get out there and make some money?

“Ladbrokes have a wonderful name, and I know the old school people who used to work there are the best – I have employed quite a few.

“The Ladbrokes training was always outstanding, but they seem to have taken a wrong turn, and got rid of some great staff.”

Keith said one successful trade he made was to buy shares in GVC (Sportingbet) at 120p.

“They are now at £5 and their dividends around the 12 per cent mark. Unless dramatic changes are made, and Ladbrokes enter the same markets as bet365 and Sportingbet, the pain will only continue.”

He said it was no longer time for hope or positive thinking. “I’m afraid that is not enough, action is needed – and I think a proper bookmaker is needed to deliver that, not a corporate operator, who pretends and guesses.

“I’m 35, have worked hard to establish Star Sports, and that has a great platform and support from both customers and its management team.

“I’m now thinking about what I’d like to do for the next five years, and this role certainly represents a fantastic challenge for whoever gets it.”

Peter Erskine, the Ladbrokes chairman, had stood by Richard Glynn through what one observer described wryly as “thin and thin” and there is a doubt over Erskine staying.

Of the external candidates, many seem to be tied in to existing jobs, while second favourite John O’Reilly was believed to be locked out given his Coral departure – although he would be a big runner if that could be resolved.

Heading the market is Patrick Jay, the former Ladbrokes sports and football director, who left the Hong Kong Jockey Club to return to Britain in December after almost five years as director of trading for one of the world’s biggest betting operations.

His corporate experience in Hong Kong is now seen as helpful.

Ladbrokes next CEO
Paddy Power bet: 5-2 Patrick Jay, 7-2 John O’Reilly, 4 Ben Keith, Joe Saumarez Smith 5 Ed Andrewes, 6 Justin Carthy 8 Jim Mullen 12 Richard Flint, Mike O’Kane, 16 Harriet Green, Wilf Walsh, Alan Greenblatt, Breon Corcoran, Ben Keith, Alex Kovach, Mark Locke, 20 Henry Birch, Brian O’Sullivan, David Loveday, Nick Rust, 40 bar.

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