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Ladbrokes CEO to Step Down

Written by:
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Published on:
Jan/12/2010

By LILLY VITOROVICH 

wsj.com

LONDON--Ladbrokes PLC said Tuesday Chief Executive Christopher Bell is leaving after nine years at the helm of the U.K. gambling company. 

Mr. Bell, who has agreed to stay on into the summer, has come under fire over the past 12 months "for overseeing a difficult period in the group's history, culminating in a punitive equity raise in October 2009," said Daniel Stewart analyst James Hollins said. 

"Our key issue with the management has been a lack of international growth in its online division, while [Mr.] Bell has probably become more famous for his arrogance surrounding his decision to ban Ladbrokes staff from using British Airways flights following a personal dispute with the airline," Mr. Hollins said in a research note. 

Mr. Bell's departure will create an opportunity for his replacement to "pursue a more dynamic and aggressive strategy," particularly in areas where the company has undeperformed, such as its online division, said KBC Peel Hunt analyst Nick Batram.

"[Mr.] Bell has made an invaluable contribution to the growth and development of Ladbrokes during his 20 years with the company," Chairman Peter Erskine said. 

"It has been agreed between the board and Chris that this is an appropriate time to seek new leadership for the business," he added. "The board is currently engaged in the search for a new chief executive to fully capitalize on Ladbrokes's brand strength and position the company for a new era of profitable growth." 

Mr. Bell, who made the decision last year to leave in 2010, said is simply "time to move on" after 20 years with Ladbrokes and for someone else to take the stewardship of the company. Mr. Bell said there are "very good people" at Ladbrokes that could replace him, but ultimately it is the board's decision. He declined to identify the internal candidates. 

A Ladbrokes spokesman said the company will consider internal and external candidates for the top job, but cautioned it was still early days. A further announcement will be made in due course. 

The new CEO will need to have a "huge passion" for the gambling industry, be in touch with the digital age and understand how to run one of the biggest retail estates in the country, Mr. Bell said. 

"It's the most fabulous job anybody could have, but it is a huge job and I'm very pleased to be passing the baton on to somebody else because it's time for a change, and -- to be quite frank -- time for a little rest too," said Mr. Bell, who plans to take trips to Chile and Italy before seeking work in the gambling and betting industry in the fall. He said he has no plans "to work flat out" like he has done over the past 20 years. 

Shares of Ladbrokes rose 0.9% to 146 pence on a broadly lower London market.

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