PATIENCE WHEATCROFT: The human factor

PATIENCE WHEATCROFT: The human factor - For a few months three years ago, Tim Holley became the subject of public vilification. Following an infamous parade of capitalists deemed to have over-stepped the line of what is considered acceptable, he found him

by PATIENCE WHEATCROFT, business and City editor of The Times
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

For a few months three years ago, Tim Holley became the subject of public vilification. Following an infamous parade of capitalists deemed to have over-stepped the line of what is considered acceptable, he found himself the butt of cartoonists' cruel brushstrokes. From relative obscurity, he was thrust centre-stage as the pantomime villain in a show that has since degenerated into total farce.

Holley was chief executive of Camelot and as such he was deemed to be making far too much money from the National Lottery. 'Where is he now?' you may be wondering. The answer is that he is still the chief executive of Camelot, but with a profile lower than the proverbial snake's armpit.

Camelot's board judged that if the company was to have any chance of winning a second term at operating the National Lottery, then it would need someone other than Holley as the front man.

Almost overnight, back in February, Dianne Thompson became the public face of Camelot. She was an inspired choice from an organisation not renowned for its skilful handling of public relations. Here was the complete antithesis of the egregious Holley: a down-to-earth northerner, striving to make her way as a single parent, and happy to take on the job for a salary a third less than that of her predecessor.

Thompson has been taking the flak as a raft of substantial companies have chosen to hide behind her neat-suited persona. Camelot's backers seem reticent to be associated with such a successful project: Cadbury Schweppes, Racal, ICL and De La Rue barely murmured as the contract for the second licence was whisked away by Dame Helena Shovelton and her colleagues.

The fact is that these companies have done very nicely out of the first contract, collecting dividends many times their original investment. Faced with the spurious concept of a 'not-for-profit' lottery as a competitor, they have no wish to focus attention on the scale of their winnings.

So they stayed out of sight and privately applauded as Thompson was given the title of chief executive-designate and pushed into the limelight. The theory was that Holley would step down as chief executive once Camelot had been awarded a second term and then retire in 2002.

Quite what scenario was contemplated if Camelot lost the bid, or the bidding process developed into the protracted wrangle that has since ensued, is unclear. But Thompson is not the sort of person to dwell on what happens to a chief executive-designate when the business is pulled from beneath her feet. Instead, she has thrown herself into the battle to win the second licence.

She has shouldered the guilt feelings that niggle at a mother devoting the bulk of her attentions to business while her daughter sits her GCSE examinations. Even a birthday outing had to be abandoned when it coincided with a rush to court to challenge the National Lottery Commission's patently unfair ruling in favour of The People's Lottery. Daughter was appeased with a stretch limo, but one senses that Thompson's delight in her legal victory was tarnished by the cost to her family life.

She is far more realistic a role model than her opponent, a ballooning millionaire. Yet this contest pitches the Camelot chief executive-designate not against the chief executive of the People's Lottery but against its chairman, Sir Richard Branson. Simon Burridge, the former advertising man who now runs TPL, is as likely to be recognised by the ordinary scratch-card buyer as the chief executive of Ladbroke or William Hill.

Thompson knows about the difficulties of trying to rehabilitate an organisation with an appalling public image: she honed her marketing skills at Woolworth and then Signet before joining Camelot. Yet Camelot continues to appear unattractive to the public.

Despite the fact that the company has run a hugely successful lottery, it is still regarded by many as a pariah. The presence of Thompson has not been sufficient to lift Camelot beyond its money-grabbing reputation into the realm where it might be adjudged a worthy alternative to Branson and his team.

Antipathy to Camelot has been built on the level of the bonuses paid to executives. In fact, these were not particularly out of line with those that any major company might pay to executives who had delivered a massive project on time and on budget. Yet people who regularly hand over their cash to take part in Lottery games, only to receive no return, may have taken exception to the well-publicised salaries of the Lottery executives.

The chief executive-designate seems to be earning every penny of hers. Whether her invisible co-directors deserve theirs is not so clear.

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