Senior female football executives used to be something of a rarity. These days they are no longer such a novelty but not all of them are prepared to do the job without taking a salary or take a gamble by coming out of retirement to save their local club.
Of all the female club chiefs scattered around the country, few are making a name for themselves to such an extent as Ann Budge at Heart of Midlothian – where she’s owner, chairwoman and CEO of Scotland’s third biggest club rolled into one.
Budge is banging the drum not just for her gender – she has introduced a female HR manager and a female head of finance – but also for fan involvement, at a club that for years was mismanaged and had to experience the ignominy of relegation before restoring its pride and purpose to go with its renowned passion.
After studying psychology at university, Budge joined the IT department at brewing giant Scottish & Newcastle in Edinburgh before jointly founding IT services firm Newell & Budge.
In 2001, she bought out her fellow founder, then in 2005 sold the company to French group Sopra for €48.45m – or about £32m at the exchange rate at that time – with her 57% shareholding triggering an estimated pay-out of around £18m.
After selling the business, which had grown to more than 1,000 people, Budge stayed on to run Sopra’s operations in the UK. Eventually, as she approached 60, she decided to step down to spend more time with her family, a phrase that is often used as a euphemism for being thrown on the management scrapheap but which in her case was entirely genuine.
It was, however, a decision she took reluctantly. “I had always dreaded retirement,” Budge told fcbusiness in a wide-ranging interview about her life before and during football. “I had this horror of waking up in the morning and wondering what I was going to do. It wasn’t something, to be honest, that I was relishing.”
Not being able to resist remaining partially involved in business, she took on a couple of non-executive and advisory positions – “generally trying to keep myself busy” as she put it – but wasn’t getting enough motivation from it.
“I wasn’t really enjoying it because I wasn’t hands-on with anything major,” says Budge, a self-confessed control freak. That’s when football, which had always been in her family’s DNA, if not in her own, entered her life big-time, ultimately earning her the sobriquet “The Queen of Hearts”.
The Edinburgh club had been in free fall under the control of Lithuanian businessman Vladimir Romanov who had pledged to eradicate the club’s debt but did exactly the opposite; so much so that the Lithuanian bank he owned collapsed amid reports he had plundered millions of pounds.