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Business

At home: Simon Walker, head of the Institute of Directors

Posted August 19, 2013
From Labour party activist to director-general of the Institute of Directors, the ‘eternal migrant’ has led a diverse life

Simon Walker in his west London home©Dan Dennison

When Simon Walker, director-general of the Institute of Directors, first saw his west London home in 1994 it was a ruin. Nevertheless, both he and his then eight-year-old son fell in love with it. “My son,” he recalls, “went back home and said to my wife, ‘I’ve just seen the house we’re going to buy’. He loved it because there’s a tree in the back garden and he thought he could spend all his time climbing it.”

Walker had no such ambitions. What attracted him most to the property was the setting, overlooking Brook Green and its tennis courts. “It makes the house open. The light is fantastic,” he says, “and living on a green means there are no houses on the other side of the road, it automatically doubles the parking places.”

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The bookie who’s still at the races after 40 years

Posted March 9, 2012

As the Cheltenham Festival kicks off next week, gambling boss, Ralph Topping, explains that football is fun but racing remains tops at his firm

Evening Standard

Still at the races: Ralph Topping started working at betting shops when he was a 19-year-old law student in Edinburgh. Image courtesy of Evening Standard

Ralph Topping, chief executive of William Hill, is able to do what we would all love to do: dress up sporting jaunts as work. A visit to the Cheltenham Festival next week could be counted as work, as could a trip to the European football championships in Poland and Ukraine in the summer. But, says Topping, “I don’t like jaunts. Somebody at work said, ‘Ralph doesn’t work 24/7, he works 26/9.’ I turned down invitations to see two semi-finals at the World Cup in South Africa because it would have meant practically a week away from work. As a Presbyterian Scot, I get guilty if I’m not working.”

We have just sat down for lunch at the Ivy and the man who runs the country’s largest bookmakers with 2300 shops has encouraged me to order haggis.

I have already provoked him to defend his homeland by suggesting that Scotland is a backwater. “Everywhere’s a backwater if you’re sitting in London. There’s a lot going on at the moment.”

But then Topping, 60, is the son of a West Lothian policeman who, when I ask how he would vote on Scottish independence, says: “I come from a family which is very much independence-minded. Would I vote for it? Do I like Alex Salmond? Put it this way, I do think Salmond is the best politician in the UK at the moment, the cleverest.”

Topping does, however, have a shrewd assessment of the English products that work for his business. So, while William Hill sponsors the Scottish Cup — “a good product”, says Topping — it is the marketing deal he did with the Football Association in January that, he admits, has opened up the world for his business. “We’re a big company with a strong presence in England. We’ve got a big global footprint now, and there’s a hell of an amount of interest in the Premier League. Being associated with England is a good thing for our brand.”

Football did keep Topping awake on November 19 last year when all the favourites came in.

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At home: Lord Bell

Posted January 20, 2012

Financial Times

The PR guru on working with Thatcher and Murdoch and moving to the centre – geographically at least

Tim Bell has been moving to the centre all his life. For a man who was Lady Thatcher’s PR guru, this would be sensational news except that the movement has been geographic rather than political. “As my career progressed,” he says with a laugh, “I have worked my way from north London to the centre,” from a Norman Shaw house in Frognal Lane, Hampstead, to a Belgravia town house.

Thatcher lives round the corner, Yehudi Menuhin used to be the residents’ spokesman and a few doors away is a house that fooled an entire generation of television viewers into believing they were witnessing events from a police station in the East End of London. Now a private residence, then it was London’s most famous police station. “The Queen Mother,” explains Lord Bell, “used to give it the prize for being the prettiest police station every year for God knows how long. And Jack Warner stood outside it in Dixon of Dock Green, [a British TV series that ran from 1955 to 1976].”

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Forget Olympics medals, think of the UK’s trade benefits

Posted March 12, 2010

The Evening Standard

Modern nations come together at Olympics or World Cups, not merely to prove athletic prowess on the field of play.

The off-the-field activities of their businessmen can be more lucrative than those of Chelsea footballer John Terry, as they seek money-making opportunities.

These global sporting events have now replaced the Victorian great exhibitions as the places to network and promote a nation’s trade. No country is more confident that it has got its “Olympics means business” message right than Britain.

So, although British winter athletes returned from Vancouver holding up the bottom of the Winter Games medals table along with Estonia and Kazakhstan, away from the ski slopes and ice venues, British officials have been hailing the Games as a triumph.

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Bursting into the World Market

Posted July 1, 1998

Securities & Investment Review

ICELAND has a population not much bigger than one of the smaller London boroughs — a little over 270 000 — and a flat, fea-tureless landscape that, because of its vol-canic nature, has so few trees that even Icelanders joke that a single Christmas tree constitutes a forest.

It was here, in the mid-70s, that the chess match of the century — Spassy v Fisher — took place. Then, in the mid-80s, it played host to the seminal meeting of the post-war world when Reagan met Gorbachev. But, while both these events went on to have global repercus-sions, Iceland returned to its historic role as a quiet backwater, difficult to get to and even more difficult to learn about.

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