Budge is due to hand over her 75.1 per cent shareholding to the fan group in spring 2020 but will remain the ultimate authority at Tynecastle Park thereafter.
FoH want her tenure as CEO to continue beyond the change of ownership, which will place Hearts into the hands of supporters for the first time. The Foundation will hold the shares and two of their directors will continue representing the fans on the Hearts board. However, when it comes to major decisions like authorising player signings, academy investment or changing a manager, the final decision will rest with Budge.
Hearts have utilised that very hierarchy model to good effect since emerging from administration five years ago with Budge as owner. She plans to pass the club to its supporters in 12 months’ time once her £2.5million loan is repaid. That will not mean FoH calling the shots.
“It would be Ann, it would absolutely not be the Foundation. Hearts will be fan-owned but not fan-run,” said Stuart Wallace, the Foundation chairman, in the second of a two-part Evening News interview. Wallace and fellow FoH director Donald Cumming currently sit on the Hearts board alongside Budge, director of football/manager Craig Levein and others.
“The Foundation board will be in the background holding the shares on behalf of the fans. We can participate in all those debates with Ann and the executive team. Those discussions have come up – appointing Craig, the previous head coach leaving – and Donald and myself were very much in and about those decisions. When it comes to the absolute final say, that will belong to Ann. We will be there to advise her.
“That also extends to votes at AGMs because, as Ann has said to us, it would be an odd CEO who didn’t know how 75.1 per cent of the votes were going to go before an AGM. That’s just a good governance model.”
Budge, 71, has indicated she would accept the Foundation’s invitation to stay on in her current CEO role. Her stewardship of the Edinburgh club has helped it grow in stature to the point where it is now unrecognisable from the shell she inherited from Vladimir Romanov and the BDO administrators.
Wallace and the Foundation recognise the need for a seamless transition and are content that Budge has shown sound judgment as well as excellent business sense in all her dealings on Hearts’ behalf.
So, effectively, she should be able to remain in situ as the leading figure at Tynecastle for as long as she wishes.
“As I understand, the board will remain very much the same. It’s really Ann’s call as chief executive what happens at that point,” added Wallace. “We put our trust in her to run the club day-to-day. When it comes to AGMs, we will own 75.1 per cent of the shares, therefore 75.1 per cent of the voting rights. We hope to be working really closely in the background, but that has been happening all the way through. It’s really no change.
“Donald and I sit on the board so we are constantly up to date on anything from the new stand to players’ contractual updates. There is very much that crossover between the two organisations.
“However, when it comes to day-to-day running of the club and all the football matters, we should be standing in the background and letting them crack on. Our two directors have their input at board level once a month.”