ON HER Linkedin profile, Leeann Dempster points out that she “simply thrives on a challenge”.
Dempster, who was yesterday confirmed as the new chief executive at Hibernian, grew up in the east end of Glasgow rather than Edinburgh.
However, considering her wish to test herself, she is well-matched to the Easter Road club. The challenge for those players currently at the club is to ensure that Hibs are still in the top flight when Dempster takes up her new role at the start of June.
The remit she has been handed is “to lead the club”. There will be no appetite on Dempster’s part to engage with a task she completed with such success while at Motherwell, which is picking worthy managerial candidates. She might have worked for an undertaker firm early in her career, but it is unlikely that she has any intention of adding to the managerial body count of recent years at Easter Road.
Terry Butcher’s short reign has proved a troubled one but he seems certain to be handed the chance to re-invigorate the club along with Dempster this summer. The relationship that develops between the pair will be central to Hibs’ bid to bring some positive momentum back to the club, off the pitch as well as on it. Dempster never crossed paths with Butcher at Motherwell – she arrived in 2008, he left the manager’s post in 2006 – but she has worked with strong football men at Fir Park and more than held her own.
Craig Brown arrived at Motherwell a year after Dempster and he yesterday credited the chief executive with persuading him to come off the golf course and back into frontline football management. “I was grateful to her for bringing me back into the game and for appointing me,” the former Scotland manager said. Brown and Archie Knox, his assistant, arrived originally on a temporary basis as Motherwell toiled near the bottom of the league following an unhappy time under Jim Gannon. Although Brown left the club in fractious circumstances just over a year later, he more than helped stabilise the club, helping them qualify for Europe. After he left, Dempster simply head-hunted someone else, appointing Stuart McCall to equally good, if not better, effect.
“A lot of Motherwell’s success is to do with her ability, along with that of the board’s, to pick good managers,” said Alan Burrows, the Motherwell media and press manager. “Leeann was essentially responsible for picking two managers – Craig Brown and Stuart McCall. Craig Brown has the second-best win-loss ratio since the war, and that is only second to Stuart McCall.”
Dempster certainly made her mark at Motherwell. She originally arrived in the role of general manager at the invitation of owner John Boyle, whose Zoom Airlines flight company, where Dempster worked previously, had gone into receivership. Her move to Motherwell was originally intended to be on a short-term basis. But six months became six years, in which she was promoted to chief executive. She has added roles at the Scottish Professional Football League and the European Club Association’s marketing and communications board to an impressive CV.
Before her time with Zoom, she worked for an advertising agency and handled clients with a budget of £40 million a year. Such sums won’t be hers to spend at Hibs of course, just as they were not at Motherwell. But her ability to develop ties with the community means Dempster is, in the words of Burrows, “worth her weight in gold”.
“She came in and made the club more open,” he added. There is a perception that Hibs have become divorced from their fans, something which the current Let’s Work Together project hopes to address. Dempster’s appointment is seen as a comfortable fit in terms of this vision. “She has won over any doubters,” added Burrows, meaning those who questioned whether Dempster could survive in a football world of which she had limited experience, certainly on a day-to-day basis.
She did grow up in a football household, with a father and two brothers, who, she recalled in an interview in 2013, were “mad about football”. She went to games with them, she added. Dempster didn’t grow up a Motherwell fan but she became one during her time at Fir Park. Now she is set to change her colours to green and white as she continues her odyssey in a game once perceived to be such a male bastion. Thanks to those such as Dempster and Ann Budge, the chairwoman-in-waiting at Hearts, this view of football is rapidly changing.
“The idea football is still the domain of tracksuited men and people in grey suits isn’t true,” Dempster said recently. “I see football as full of opportunities for people that haven’t been involved in the game because they bring new skills and ask different questions. It has made real progress.”
BT Sport Q&A: Rangers | Hibs | Neil Lennon
THIS week’s BT Sport video Q&A looks at whether Rangers fans will buy season tickets and if the club’s supporters will force a change of ownership.
The form of Hibs under Terry Butcher is also examined following the Easter Road side’s derby defeat while the future of Neil Lennon is also considered following the announcement that his assistant Johan Mjallby is to depart at the end of the season.
• Email your Scottish football question for the BT Sport panel to answer. The next show will be recorded on May 7 after St Johnstone v Celtic with the video available on The Scotsman website the following day. You can also tweet us @TheScotsman.
A line-up of experts will handle your questions after each BT Sport game. Most match days, the team includes Darrell Currie, Derek Rae and Gary McAllister.
Over this season, BT Sport will air 30 SPFL matches plus 10 Rangers games from the SPFL League One.
• T&C We can not guarantee which presenters will answer your questions. Questions are vetted and no correspondence will be entered into.