Who is James Anderson, the Hearts benefactor with millions to save Scottish football?

Edinburgh investor is a fan of doing things differently

James Anderson is Hearts' mystery benefactor and is willing to help the SPFL.
James Anderson is Hearts' mystery benefactor and is willing to help the SPFL.

Perhaps the most insightful remark from James Anderson in recent years is this: “I barely believe these days in the value of any traditional thinking.”

The Edinburgh-based investor likes the alternative approach; the outside-the-box thoughts; the opportunities which sometimes lie under the radar.

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That might explain why he and wife Morag have anonymously ploughed millions into Hearts and are willing to do likewise in an effort to save Scottish football.

The Andersons are close associates of Ann Budge as part of a group of benefactors who have donated nearly £9million to the Edinburgh club in the last three years.

In another philanthropic gesture, their money could now help teams across the Scottish Professional Football League survive the coronavirus crisis.

They do not seek public gratitude and would very much prefer to remain in the background. They don’t like the attention surrounding them at the moment but that has become unavoidable due to the frenzied attention on modern professional sport.

Budge introduced James to the SPFL hierarchy suspecting that his generosity is a commodity Scottish football could use in abundance right now – and perhaps for years to come.

Anderson has years of experience in generating funds and using them wisely. He managed investment firm Baillie Gifford’s flagship investment trust, Scottish Mortgage, for two decades and its total assets are now worth £11.3billion.

That includes stakes worth tens of millions in worldwide conglomerates like Ferrari, Netflix, Amazon and Tesla. Anderson’s extra-curricular activities illustrate his penchant for thinking differently.

He has donated millions of his own wealth unconditionally to help Hearts. The club received £3.25m from benefactors in their 2019 accounts. That followed £3m in 2018 and £2.5m in 2017. Anderson was the biggest contributor on each occasion.

For the last five years, he has helped underwrite Hearts’ shirt sponsorship to allow the youth charity Save The Children to adorn jerseys instead of a commercial brand.

He and his wife are both passionate about supporting disadvantaged children. They have sponsored projects for kids at the Edinburgh Festival and through the youth orchestra charity Sistema Scotland.

While some multi-millionaires are accused of evading tax and selfishly guarding every penny, Anderson has earned a reputation for strong moral principles.

He and Morag often holiday at their Italian vineyard for relaxation. They have lived in Edinburgh and Amsterdam, also favouring spells on America’s west coast and in China.

Anderson is a strong believer in open-mindedness. In a 2017 interview, he was asked what inspired him to become a fund manager, replying: “If not a fund manager, what would you be? Ignorance, curiosity and luck. Because of the second it would have been journalism – of a certain type that is now rare.”

Later in the same conversation, when asked which books he would recommend to every investor, he says: “I’m uncomfortable with the notion of ‘every investor’, as I really believe we should encourage diversity of thought.”

He adds: “The concept is that we are insular. I have a rule to read more than 50 per cent of books from outside the Anglo-American bubble. At least Carlota Perez hails from Venezuela.”

It is clear he does not subscribe to mainstream thoughts and attitudes. Anderson graduated from the University of Oxford with a degree in history and journeyed to Italy and Canada for postgraduate study.

He achieved an MA in international affairs in 1982 and joined Baillie Gifford the following year. Just last month, he stepped down as head of long-term global growth to focus on research with the firm.

Whatever portion of his own wealth he might gift the SPFL – league officials are in discussions with him at the moment – he is not expected to attach conditions.

Neil Doncaster, the SPFL chief executive, confrimed: “We had a very constructive and worthwhile discussion with James and we agreed on the need to progress things as swiftly as possible.

“The offer from James is an extremely generous one and we have committed to work together to quickly iron out the details and develop a concrete proposal which could make a significant difference to our 42 clubs.”

Budge needs league reconstruction to prevent her club playing next season in the Scottish Championship, but Anderson isn’t preparing to make huge demands of Doncaster or the SPFL board. He will not covet attention or influence within Hampden Park’s corridors.

How would his cash be distributed among clubs? Would it be split evenly? Could a greater percentage go to those with less income to prevent hibernating? Would Premiership clubs siphon off the vast majority like they do prize money?

These are all questions yet to be answered. There is no uncertainty over Anderson’s intention to help those in need, however.

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