Ann Budge reveals the legacy she wants to leave Hearts
There must have been times when she contemplated jacking it all in. Ann Budge, a 72-year-old grandmother and multi-millionaire, does not need the hassle involved in running Hearts. Certainly not when it causes her sleepless nights.
That happened for the first time during this summer’s legal wrangle with the Scottish Professional Football League over the club’s enforced relegation. The intensity of the dispute and the fallout from it caused Budge to toss and turn on her pillow many an evening.
The answer is simple: She wants to leave a strong legacy when she steps down. Throwing in the towel on the back of a disputed relegation is not her style. She jokingly admits wanting to control everything as club owner, perhaps to her detriment of late.
Her resolve remains fierce. Budge took control of Hearts in 2014, helping rebuild the club from the ashes of administration. They won promotion from the Championship and reached the Europa League qualifying rounds but the last couple of years have been abject on the field.
Off it, Tynecastle’s new main stand and other community projects have brought stability. Now it’s about revitalising the team and returning to the Premiership. When she stands down as chairwoman, she wants to be certain Hearts are in a position to thrive.
“I don't want to hand over something that's broken or in a bad state. People might argue that's where we are right now but I don't think that is the case,” she says.
“I want to hand over something that's stable and financially secure, where we've invested sensibly whether it be in players or infrastructure, we have a business model that works and you can see there's a growth path. That's always been my objective and remains my objective.”
If it interrupts sleep, so be it. “I can say truthfully for the first time in my life I was having sleepless nights,” says Budge of the summer’s travails.
“That's because it wasn't quite 24/7, but it was pretty close to it. We can all do that for a certain period of time if we can see an end point.
“I've done that all my life; if you know you're heading for something that's going to happen at the end of March or whenever, you can practically do 24/7.
“But when it just goes on, and on, and on relentlessly and every day brings the next challenge, it's quite tough. A couple of months ago I found it quite tough to deal with.
“Having said that, I was just getting out of bed in the morning and going down to my conservatory, which I've turned into my office. I had my computer, my iPad and my phone and just spent the whole day there.
“So I was always busy and didn't have too much time to overly worry, but there were a couple of bad times.”
She appointed Andrew McKinlay chief executive to unburden herself. He will assume much of the daily workload whilst Budge focuses on other issues, like transferring her majority shareholding to the fan group Foundation of Hearts later this year.
She will remain Hearts chairwoman and McKinlay may have some trouble keeping her at arms length. “I told Andrew when we were talking about him taking the job that the biggest problem he would have would be me, because I am a control freak, I will interfere and I've been here a long time,” laughs Budge.
“So I've made him a promise that I will try hard not to interfere. I'm here whenever he wants to discuss anything but I'm going to try very firmly to say, ‘don't talk to me, talk to Andrew,’ where it's appropriate.
“My day-to-day activities will be more focused on the football side because we've still got things I need to do there and that will get me out of Andrew's hair. The fact that we're all working from home gives an advantage as well.”
Budge is a sucker for a project and Hearts remain very much that in her eyes. She sees plenty issues to sink her teeth into over the next year or so. It is those challenges she derives ongoing enjoyment from.
“I'm afraid that's absolutely right and why the last six months was possible – because it was going from one challenge to another, to another, to another. I do like getting my teeth into things. That's why Andrew's got a problem potentially,” she smiles.
She is asked what makes it all worth it. “Although we can't see it right now because of everything that's going on, it always comes back to people,” she explains.
“When you work in an organisation – and I'm sure this is true of most football clubs, not just Hearts – the commitment of almost every member of staff is really quite hard to understand. It's not just me that gets my teeth into things and you see that every day.
“You play a match and see how much it means to the supporters. You see what happens when the club's got a problem and the FoH pledgers get right behind us. It's all about people. That's what makes it work for me.”
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