Bet365’s founder and Chief Executive, Denise Coates, has an estimated net worth of some $12.2 billion (£9.4 billion) according to an estimate published by Forbes magazine this October. The 52-year old is a true entrepreneur, starting Bet365 after mortgaging the betting shops her father, Peter, had founded to invest in the emerging technology of internet gambling and establish what is now the world’s largest online gambling business. Bet365 is the largest private employer in Stoke-on-Trent, her home town in the Potteries, and employs over 4,000 people with an ambitious growth plan to boot. This is a success story writ large!
But this Christmas, Denise Coates has received some unwanted attention too after it was revealed in company accounts that she has awarded herself an annual pay package of £323 million, comprising £277 million in salary and the remainder in dividends. This is a significant rise on the previous year when she withdrew £265 million from the business. Unsurprisingly, the news has drawn flack with the High Pay Centre commenting “Obviously, people who build successful companies need to be rewarded for their hard work, but this is an obscene amount of money for someone who is already a billionaire”. Others have also noted that the submission of the accounts appear to have been deliberately delayed until after the General Election, to potentially avoid Bet365 being drawn into the bitter political debates about equality and poverty in the United Kingdom.
However, Bet365 is a private company with Denise Coates, her brother, John, and father collectively owning 93% of the shares, so the business avoids the battles about CEO remuneration that can plague others (for example, you may recall the recent controversy over Persimmon’s pay package to CEO Jeoff Fairburn that ultimately led to the latter’s departure from the housebuilding company). Denise Coates can award herself the remuneration package that she wants, and when she wants it. She is now in fact the best paid female executive in the world and the UK’s 19th richest person.
But critics should temper their negativity and envy because Denise Coates is pretty unusual for a billionaire – she remains a UK resident, and is one of the top 3 tax-paying individuals in the country. She has also founded the Denise Coates Foundation that supports health and wellbeing, education and training. Thus far, over £100 million has been distributed to worthy causes and her contribution to charitable works was recognised with her CBE in 2012. And remember, too, that her business employs over 4,000 people with indirect employment accounting for many more. Bet365, and most particularly Peter Coates, also support Stoke City football club, which is going through a turgid time after relegation from the Premier League last year, and will be a major money sump for the family in years to come, if it is to be turned around.
So, yes, Denise Coates has hit the jackpot… but only after building a global business over the past twenty years. Highly regarded in the Potteries, and respected by her competitors in the gambling industry, in the wider world it is nonetheless inevitable that she will face scrutiny. However, unless and until such a time as Bet365 becomes a public limited company, Denise Coates can continue to reward herself as she and her family see fit.