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From his first paid job with Singer & Friedlander merchant bank to being chief executive of the world-renowned Hippodrome Casino, Simon Thomas reflects on the journey of aspirations, emotions and motivations that make him tick.
What was your first paid job and how much did you earn?
My very first job was at one of my father’s joinery shops – where they manufactured gaming machinery – and I swept the floors to save up for a Mickey Mouse watch. My first paid job after university was with Singer & Friedlander merchant bank and I earned around £13K pa.
Is there something that you wish you’d been told before the start of your career?
You can’t know everything from day one. The boss of the biggest conglomerate was just as naïve as the next person at the beginning of their career. So relish that journey of gaining experience. It’s the fun part. That, and knowing the winner of every Grand National since 1983 (when I was 18).
What motivates you?
Time. Life’s short and time is incredibly precious. So getting the balance right, working hard so I can spend the best hours with my family in nice places is what drives me
What would you be doing if you weren’t in the industry?
I’d be a barrister. I like the intellectual challenge of a well presented argument. What keeps you awake at night? If there’s something happening in my life I can’t control. Or more often, when an idea pops into my head and I have to write it down. Yes, I have a pencil and pad on my bedside table.
Who in the business has had the biggest impact on your career?
My father, Jimmy Thomas. I admire his tenacity; he can be a terrier to achieve what he wants, whereas I’m less of a scrapper so find solutions other ways. But it’s an enviable quality.
Worst business decision?
I lost £100K in a business in a field I didn’t know enough about. Lesson learned, do your homework properly.
Best business decision?
Timing of the sale of the bingo business and switching to the Hippodrome. Selling the old business before the decline of the bingo industry following the smoking ban and new gambling act. And then using the funds to build the Hippodrome to where we are now. For a business which involved renovating a theatre from the floor up, there’s a pleasing irony we’re just finishing a significant extension on our outdoor terrace at the very top of the building, five floors up. But of, course we’re already thinking ‘what can we do next?’.
Best piece of advice and from whom?
My old company Chairman Henry Charles taught me: in any conflict or difficult decision, you only have three choices. “Accept, change or walk away.” If two of those aren’t an option, then get on with the other one and don’t whinge about it. The wisest words.
If you could change one thing about the industry what would you do?
To have a more collaborative relationship with the industry’s regulator. The issues within the sector are undeniably complex, far from black or white, and the opportunity to discuss, persuade and have a balanced debate on some of the key issues would be a godsend.