The Tynecastle owner was yesterday welcoming delegates to the Edinburgh Sports Conference at the Signet Library in Edinburgh. She delivered a speech that sought to illustrate the difference between running an IT business with a turnover of £50 million – as she had done – and one where the turnover was around £5m initially. It was a miracle it was even that since Hearts were in administration at the time; trust was also in short supply.
She quickly discovered that scrutiny is in inverse proportion to turnover. Few people in the street wanted to know her when she was calling the shots at Newell & Budge, the IT consultancy firm she helped found in 1985 and then sold in a deal worth more than £40m.
“One of the main differences I have found in football is you have to justify every business decision constantly in front of the media and indeed supporters,” she said.
“In my previous life I had a turnover in excess of £50m, I had between 100 and 200 corporate clients and over 1,000 in my workforce but I could walk around Edinburgh with total anonymity; no one knew who I was at all and that was terrific. I then took over a football club with a turnover of just over £5m at the time – of course we do have over 15,000 clients if I count as clients those supporters who come to Tynecastle on a regular basis. And the media and supporters want to know what is going on all the time.”
One person who wasn’t interested in what she had to say at the time was the bank manager. She found it impossible to access funds. Few public bodies are in the business of helping out football clubs which have crashed and burned.
“When I first took over, trying to get any financial help was just impossible,” she recalled. “I could not even get a credit card for the club.
“I had to use my own credit card to facilitate purchases and that was despite having paid off our debts and having a million sitting in the bank. I could still not get the bank manager to give us a credit card, because we were a football club.”
Another difference she found between her new life and her old life is that none of her customers used to come to her former place of work and “rip up seats, spray-paint toilets and shout abuse”. She has learned to accept dealing with the ugly side of the game.
“In my previous life I ran one business,” she added. “I was an IT services provider. At Hearts I am running so many different types of business: obviously there’s an events business, putting on a football match.
“We have a full set of hospitality offerings. I find myself running a pub, and we have a restaurant – and there are challenges getting a profit from running a pub and from running a restaurant; they are quite different. We also run a museum, a charity, of course a retail business.
“We have to do all these things as a football club. Over the last few years we have built a new stand at our home ground: for a long time it felt as though I was running a construction company. It was close to an £18m development and that’s no small undertaking while we were trying to do all these other things. But if we are ever to get out of this position of basically fighting for survival it has to be because we are building a sustainable business regardless of what is going on on the pitch.”
Budge remains confident that despite Hearts and Hibs both having endured poor starts they will be challenging for a European place in the business part of the season.
“Normally we would be expected to be two clubs trying to achieve European football,” she said, to an audience that included George Craig, the Hibs head of football operations. “At the moment, I have to say neither of us are sitting anywhere close to that.
“But we are only four games into the season, I have not given up hope yet. I should probably say: watch this space. I am confident both Edinburgh clubs will be fighting for a spot in Europe at the end of the season.”