LEEANN Dempster has urged angry Hibs supporters to turn the focus on her as she bids to turn around fortunes with “full autonomy” as the club’s new chief executive.
And, as she attempts to clear up the mess left by the club’s embarrassing relegation to the Championship, the former Motherwell CEO has left question marks hanging over the future of manager Terry Butcher, whose fate will be decided following talks between the pair next week.
Dempster began work as Rod Petrie’s successor on Monday and was immediately plunged into what she has described as “a challenging first few days”.
Her arrival at Easter Road has coincided with the launch of a “Petrie Out” campaign that is being fronted by a number of former players and supporters’ organisations in a bid to oust the under-fire 58-year-old from the non-executive role he retains as chairman.
A rally is planned for this morning outside the club’s stadium, where Dempster is scheduled to meet a cross-section of fans represented on the Working Together umbrella group.
However, Dempster has “categorically” rejected fears held by supporters that she will not be allowed to bring about the changes necessary at the club because of interference by Petrie, who has been blamed by fans for presiding over relegation from the Premiership and some of the capital outfit’s most miserable results.
Asked in an extensive interview, conducted by prominent fan Grant Stott, what she made of the row that had greeted her arrival at the club, she said: “It’s not been as I anticipated, let’s put it that way. It’s been a challenging first few days, quite possibly the most challenging a new CEO could face, but I’m not fazed by it.
“We find ourselves in a very challenging position and we need to refocus, but it is what it is; I can’t change anything. I just need to get on with the job.”
In response to question marks remaining over whether she will be allowed to conduct the changes she wants, she added: “I can be quite clear on that. I was running a football club, and let’s be honest a very successful football club, and when I was approached to come here, that was one of my main concerns. Am I going to have the autonomy to go and do the job, the job that is required at this club?
“Let’s be frank, Hibernian hasn’t had the best on-field results in the last couple of years. We haven’t performed the way we need to. I saw an opportunity to come in and improve on that.
“I wasn’t going to walk away from a job where I had complete autonomy, the absolute support of the chairman to do the job that was required, the absolute support of the board to do the job required, to walk into another post where my hands were going to be tied.
“I think I’ve got enough integrity and, I would certainly hope, reputation that people would know I wouldn’t do that.
“I’ve got the ball now, the responsibility is on me, the focus needs to go on me. The choices I make and the recommendations I make to the board are going to be the ones which are hopefully going to take the club forward.
“To say that the chairman needs to go is, in my view, quite a simplistic approach and probably an unfair one.
“I’m picking up the baton, if you like, and it’s me that is going to have to take that responsibility. We’ve got a board of directors, we operate independently, and part of my viewpoint here is we have to start acting more like a football club than a corporate entity, and that is the direction I want to take us in.
“Is it going to be my way forward? Categorically. I can be asked that question any number of times and it will be the same answer and I have to be judged on that.”
Meanwhile, Dempster has refused to confirm that manager Terry Butcher will still be in charge of the team at the start of next season, preferring to hold formal talks with the former England skipper first.
The pair met last week as 11 players were told they were being freed following relegation but, at that point, Dempster was still officially an employee of Motherwell.
Speaking at the end of her first week at Easter Road, she has insisted that discussions on the future of Butcher, who moved from Inverness in November when Hibs were seventh in the table, would not have been appropriate at that point.
The duo have since spoken on the phone but will meet in person next week. And responding to a question on whether Butcher would still be the Hibs manager heading into the Championship, Dempster pointedly failed to take the opportunity to firm up the former Motherwell and Inverness manager’s position.
Speaking to Hibernian TV, she responded: “I met Terry for the first time in the capacity of him being the Hibernian manager last week when I went to the training facility. At that time, emotions were very high and relegation had just happened.
“I was still CEO of Motherwell at that point, so no decisions or formal discussions could take place. So Terry went off to finish his family holiday and has since come back. We’ve spoken on a few occasions since and there are plans to meet Terry next week.
“Once we’ve had that conversation and we’ve come to a conclusion on the direction of the club, I can come out and talk. But it was far too early to say I would do anything at that point and, as my previous role was still intact, it wasn’t appropriate either.”