THE name Ann Budge was a new one to many people when it was announced on Thursday that she is funding the Foundation of Hearts’ takeover of the Tynecastle club.
But the idea that the businesswoman only arrived on the scene this week could not be further from the truth.
Budge has been involved with the Foundation since its first tentative steps – long before the various Hearts supporters groups united under its banner with Ian Murray as its chairman. She and the other leading members of the Foundation have spent some time deciding on the most efficient way for the organisation to take control of Hearts. While key decisions have yet to be taken – above all on who will be in charge of the football side of operations – Budge and her colleagues already have a very clear idea on how Hearts will be run.
As she is investing £2.5 million of her own money in the takeover, it is in her interests to ensure that the maximum number of Hearts supporters remain active, contributing members of the Foundation. The club will not be run by committee, nor will there be a mass meeting in the Gorgie Suite every time a decision needs to be made. But the fans will play a crucial role and, after at most five years, Budge will have been repaid in full, and Hearts will be jointly owned by every member of the Foundation.
She could have bid to buy the club for herself, as two rivals to the Foundation tried to do. Instead, as a long-time Wheatfield Stand season-ticket holder, she preferred an ownership format most likely to ensure the stability of the club and protect it from the whims of any individual.
“Ann has been involved with the Foundation since the start,” Murray said yesterday. “I first met her after becoming chairman. She kept her cards very, very close to her chest at first. This is her own cash. She wanted to see if enough supporters would come on board. She has a vested interest in making sure the Foundation thrives. She’s doing this for no personal gain.”
The Foundation’s monthly direct-debit scheme, which sees members pledging a minimum of £10 a time, currently takes in £130,000 each month. In the first two years, all of that money will go into the club, and none to repay Budge. A modest budget will be ensured, and for the first time in recent history Hearts will also build up a cash reserve.
Even during the good years under Vladimir Romanov, there was little or no coherent long-term planning, and at times club administrators had to communicate with Lithuania – often by fax – to get funds in place for the everyday running of the business. That hand-to-mouth existence will be a thing of the past.
The method in which Budge runs the club as executive chairman will also be very different from the way in which the Lithuanian businessman conducted his affairs, according to those who have worked with her thus far. She will retain a very low profile until the takeover is complete – something that can only happen once a Lithuanian court sanctions the sale of the near-80 per cent shareholding owned by Ubig and Ukio – but thereafter be very visible as the leader of the club.
The Foundation members are well aware that, under Romanov, communications between the club and the fans were very poor. They are determined that Budge and other leading figures will continue to be approachable by their fellow fans, and that they will promote a consistent message.
Budge can be expected to speak from time to time in public, but she will not become a rent-a-quote figure eager to voice her opinion on every issue. Once the key personnel are in place, they will be the public, day-to-day voices of the club in their respective spheres: the director of football, manager or coach will speak on football matters; the managing director will address business issues. Budge will be hands on, but she will not court publicity for the sake of it.
Around nine months ago, the Foundation had three potential options when it came to choosing how to try to gain either full or partial control of Hearts. There was Budge, there was the group headed by former Scottish Rugby Union chief executive Gordon McKie, and there was a third, unnamed group.
The anonymous source soon proved unworkable. The McKie group had friendly discussions with the Foundation, and at one stage it looked plausible that the two organisations would agree a joint operation, but then not everyone who had been expected to join the group did so, meaning it could not proceed as hoped.
That left Budge. She had the will to fund the supporters’ takeover of Hearts, she had the means to do it, and above all she shared the Foundation’s vision.
Dependent as it is on the workings of Lithuania’s legal system, that takeover will not be complete until the end of March, or perhaps even April. In the meantime, in around a month, Hearts’ chairwoman-in-waiting will proceed with her plans by announcing the names of at least some members of her board of directors. In keeping with Budge’s modus operandi, it is expected that those names will be people handpicked for their professionalism, and will be known in the business community rather than in the wider Hearts support.
The existing staff at Tynecastle and Riccarton can expect to meet a new employer who has no inclination to rip things up for the sake of it. Hearts’ former owner brought about a massive upheaval, even bringing out a clothing range called Romanov Revolution as a sign that his arrival had inaugurated a new era. Hearts’ prospective new owner will indulge in no such grandiose gestures. Self-discipline, not self-indulgence, will be the watchword from now on.
From a brewery to being a major player, Hearts’ new saviour has always done business her way
ANN Budge built the IT business she launched from her Edinburgh home into one of the industry’s most successful companies employing more than 1,000 staff.
After graduating from Strathclyde University with a degree in psychology Budge, the daughter of a Leith dockworker, had begun her career as a graduate trainee programmer at Scottish & Newcastle.
She went on to become systems manager, the highest position a woman had then achieved at the brewing giant.
After 12 years with the Edinburgh-based brewer she moved to software company F International before joining forces with colleague Allison Newell to found Newell & Budge following the break-up of Budge’s marriage in 1985.
The pair used their own savings to fund the start up and both initially worked from home before moving into a serviced office in the centre of Edinburgh.
The niche market the firm focused on was helping companies which were using or converting to IBM systems including Standard Life, Scottish Equitable, Bank of Scotland, Royal Bank of Scotland and Wood Mackenzie.
Budge bought out her business partner in 2001 and continued building the company into a global operation with interests across the UK and in India.
In 2005 she sold Newell & Budge for £70 million to French company Sopra although remained in charge of what had become one of the biggest IT companies in the UK.
Despite banking a reported £30m under the deal she continued to work at Sopra, rising to lead their UK operations and represented the company at executive level at their Paris HQ.
She finally stood down as chief executive of the UK operation five years ago and has since undertaken a range of consultancy roles and also become an angel investor for 20 small Scottish companies. In 2006 she was awarded an honorary degree of Doctor of Technology by The Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen.
At her acceptance ceremony she told the audience she didn’t think being a woman had hindered her during her career.
“I have never found the glass ceiling but I think that’s because I never looked for it. It’s all about attitude,” said the mother-of-one.
In 2009 she was given the Entrepreneurial Exchange’s Entrepreneur of The Year Award.