There are plenty of examples of the worlds of business and football colliding rather than converging in a harmonious fashion, but Ann Budge believes her entrepreneurial success provides proof that risk can bring reward.
Confounded though she is at the polarising debate sparked by the club in recent days, the Hearts owner accepts she could have overseen a “safer appointment” to the role of head coach than Ian Cathro. The 30-year-old former Rio Ave, Valencia and Newcastle United assistant has long been hailed in some circles as an innovative and modern coach, and decried in others as a questionable man-manager and inexperienced footballer.
Yet, Budge can lay claim to being a reasonable judge of character. The 68-year-old built up a successful multi-million pound IT business from scratch and oversaw more than 1,000 staff before selling the company for nearly €50 million. It is a background she insists has taught her that talent, no matter how young or old, deserves to be nurtured and presented with opportunities to shine.
“Have I fast-tracked promising young employees in business? Absolutely,” she said. “Because when you’ve got talent, you have to give them opportunities, in whichever field you are in. It can only benefit you as well as them.
“I have seen that many times in my career, so I have no fears whatsoever about giving young people or people with talent opportunities. That’s what it’s all about. It’s almost a mantra for me to never be frightened to move out of your comfort zone.
“There probably would have been safer appointments – as there was two and a half years ago [when Robbie Neilson was appointed]. But, certainly, I don’t worry about taking risk – as long as it’s managed risk and you know what that risk is. And this to me is the right thing to do. It’s not hugely risky, OK it’s a bit different, but I think it fits in with our overall plan.
“I am relaxed and really excited about what the next few months and years are going to bring.”
The presence of director of football Craig Levein, a champion of Cathro’s from the start at Dundee United, will be deemed to remove a great deal of the perceived risk from the appointment. Yet Budge has confessed to being struck with different emotions when hearing of Neilson’s decision to depart for MK Dons.
With the dawn of another new era now on the horizon after the bulldozers moved in to begin the process of finally redeveloping the Tynecastle main stand, the Hearts chief executive admits she could have done without the headache of a simultaneous change in the dugout. As the days have passed, however, she has got used to the idea.
“With everything happening as it is, we’ve had a good two and a half years,” Budge added after overseeing the club’s emergence from administration, promotion back to the Premiership and qualification for Europe. “I have to say when I first heard Robbie was thinking of moving on, I thought, ‘oh dear, does it have to be now?’ We are just embarking on this [stadium work] and it’s change on the pitch as well. But, hey, we’re set up to do that. That’s why we have a director of football [Levein], it’s why we are able to take what comes on the field and also focus on what’s going on off the field. We have a broad and good management team here, we can cope with it.”