Profile: Sir David Murray - A hard act to follow follow

OWNING one half of the Old Firm is always going to a substantial barrier to universal popularity in Scotland, but even Sir David Murray's detractors have a grudging respect for a man who last week celebrated 20 years at the head of Rangers FC.

Murray has said football takes up 20% of his time but accounts for 99% of everything that is written about him, and it is clear that the Ibrox club has overshadowed a remarkable life. There's the public school education alongside Tony Blair and oilman Sir Bill Gammell. Then there's the fortune this scion of a wealthy Ayrshire family made as the sort of go-getting wheeler-dealer still instinctively mistrusted by many of his countrymen.

There's a bulging business portfolio that includes everything from metals and mining to property, restaurants and call centres. Then there are the trappings of success: the Perthshire estate, the office in Charlotte Square, the Lear jet, the Mercedes 500SL, celebrity pals Sir Sean Connery and David Coulthard, the vineyards in the south of France.

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Murray last week acknowledged that many of his compatriots "seem to want to put all the ills of Scottish society at the door of Rangers". To those people, the man who owns 92% of Rangers is the enemy incarnate. He found as much in 1991 when he launched a tabloid Sunday newspaper, the Sunday Scot, which was boycotted by most Celtic supporters and many other football fans besides and closed after a handful of issues.

Yet Murray's success was never assured. Indeed, he has had to overcome a formidable array of obstacles to become one of Scotland's richest men. The first came aged just 14 when still boarding at Fettes College. Although his father made him do holiday jobs working as a barrow boy in Butlins and a drover's mate at Ayr cattle market, he had led a gilded existence. He didn't know that his father was on the verge of bankruptcy that would end his parents' marriage and see him turfed out of Fettes and into the less rarefied surroundings of Broughton High, which he left at 17 with five O Grades.

"My father gambled so much I remember him once gambling on Come Dancing," Murray recalled later. "He was a gentle man. He wasn't strong enough, hard enough. The funny thing is that I don't gamble and I've never drunk spirits in my life. I remember as a small boy smelling whisky off him and I hated it."

Worse was to come. Aged 23 and on his way back from playing rugby (his first sporting love: he sponsors the national team) for Dalkeith, the front left tyre on his Lotus Elite exploded as he drove down a dual carriageway, sending him careering out of control and into a tree. He survived by tying tourniquets around his mangled legs, but by the time he gained consciousness in hospital he had lost both legs.

Troubles come in threes, though. Within months, his father died and he was forced to write off a bad debt of 100,000; he was married with one son aged two and another just six months old. "Yes, it made me tougher, more focused. You learn in the tough times and I am now reasonably fearless."

Yet if Murray's crutches were the most visible manifestation of hardship, the psychological wounds inflicted by the circumstances of his removal from Fettes had an equally profound impact upon his life. It sharpened his drive to succeed in life, and by the time of the crash he was already a successful businessman.

After trying money-making ventures ranging from buying and selling shirts to sand-blasting houses and even sleeping in a battered old van while feeding the animals at London Zoo, he had alighted on the job that was to make him rich. His uncle Ken owned a scrap-metal business and "was the one who influenced me because he always had the Jaguar and looked affluent", so Murray took a job as a trainee with Scotmet Alloys at 7 a week. At 23 he set up Murray International Metals, turning over 2.1m in his first year and making a profit of 100,000.

Since then, Murray has displayed a shrewd touch in business while remaining a multi-pronged private company headquartered in Scotland. Nor is he intent on floating, as Sir Tom Hunter, Sir Tom Farmer and Brian Souter did: it would make him richer, but would mean a loss of control and remove his ability to plan for the long-term. Besides, it's no longer about cash but the legacy he leaves sons Keith and David, with whom he has a strong bond after his wife, Louise, died from cancer 16 years ago.

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He's been stunningly successful so far. Thanks in large part to the 57-year-old's skills as a negotiator and his "talent for uncovering hidden long-term value", as recently as 2006 turnover was 550m with pre-tax profits of 50m: by 2010 he wants to head a 1bn company, although the recession has hit his core business, ravaging metal prices and buffeting commercial property. He may have to wait a while to pass that milestone.

Yet no matter how high Murray rises up the Rich List (he's currently 113th richest Briton, seventh wealthiest Scot), his public profile is dominated by what he likes to refer to as "a sideshow called Rangers", the institution he bought for 6m in 1988. It's perhaps the ultimate irony because he grew up an Ayr United supporter (his grandfather was on the club's board) and famously had his bid rejected 56-60 by its shareholders. It was only then, and at the behest of his friend, Graeme Souness, that he bought Rangers.

In his 20 years at the helm, Rangers have won 30 out of a possible 60 trophies.

Yet Murray's impact was felt most forcibly off the pitch. As recently as 1988 Rangers didn't knowingly sign Catholics, so when Murray and Souness signed Mo Johnston from under Celtic's noses the world momentarily ceased to spin on its axis. Since then Rangers have appointed a Catholic captain, Lorenzo Amoruso, and coach, Paul Le Guen. If Rangers are blighted by sectarian fans, Murray has done everything in his power to ensure Rangers is no longer a sectarian club: when Donald Findlay, the club's vice-chairman and a top criminal lawyer, was secretly videoed singing an anti-Catholic song on the night a Celtic supporter was murdered in a sectarian attack, Murray forced him to resign. Murray has publicly condemned the singing of the Famine Song.

His willingness to place trust in his managers meant they rewarded him with incredible loyalty: all four who worked under him – Souness, Walter Smith, Dick Advocaat, Alex McLeish – liked him enough to turn up at his son's wedding.

Murray enjoys what wealth offers him. One of the many houses he owns is Dunbarney in Perthshire, which used to be regularly visited by Winston Churchill and Harold Macmillan. He sold his former house in New Zealand, Waimanu House in Herne Bay, to the Sultan of Brunei for $6m. Yet what he seems to take most pleasure from in all areas of his life is that sense of a "hidden long-term value" – a valuable commodity in more than just business.


• Sir David Murray reckons that he has invested 100m in Rangers during his 20 years at the club.

• At the beginning of this year his personal wealth was estimated at 720m.

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• Before moving into football, Murray sponsored extremely successful hockey and basketball teams, and he remains on the executive board of Scottish Rugby.

• In 1996 Murray set up the Murray Foundation to help support amputees.

• Murray says that "some people may think I'm a fat Tory, but I don't give money to political parties". He was, however, one of the 150 Unionist businessmen to endorse the "no" campaign in the lead-up to the 1999 devolution referendum.

• In 2005, Murray purchased Chateau Routas, a 650-acre wine estate in Provence, followed by another vineyard in Burgundy later the same year.

• Murray refers to Sir Sean Connery, above, as "my second best pal".