Demotion, protests and staff reform greeted the newly appointed chief executive Leeann Dempster as she made her steps into the then toxic cauldron that was Easter Road stadium. Leeann was recruited from Motherwell FC (where she performed the same role) with stabilisationin mind and to reinvigorate a regressing football club, as well as lessen the volume of work/pressure on Rod Petrie – who was occupying the role of chairman and chief executive. However, before she could officially get her foot on the welcome mat, Hibs had contrived to get themselves relegated to the Scottish championship. A position they hadn’t found themselves in for over a decade. Welcome to the jungle, Leeann.
Leeann Dempster’s CV was one of the few sources of optimism for the Hibees as she had tackled a number of challenges and addressed numerous issues in her previous endeavours at Motherwell. The most infamous was overseeing the transition of the ownership of the football club from a more conventional model to one of fan ownership. This showcased her understanding of the importance of the fan in the modern game and her ability to establish unity. Hibernian presented Leeann with a bigger fan base but that could easily work against her in her quest for unity due to the severity of the dislocation between the club and the fans at the time of her appointment.
Dempster brought with her several key attributes that were previously absent from the ‘blazers’ at Easter Road: enthusiasm, PR skills and a decisive nature. She was also extremely perceptive and acknowledged the ill feeling around the club and set out to change it. These attributes had endeared her to the Hibs fans before any recruits were made or any policies were implemented.
A complete squad overhaul was welcomed and brought a desired freshness, but the managerial appointment was a little more unpredictable. It came in the form of former Everton youth team coach and Celtic defender Alan Stubbs. A left field choice perhaps, but an inspired one nevertheless. Stubbs embodied everything that Leeann was so keen to inject at Easter Road and reiterated a lot of what Leeann had stated previously. There was an overwhelming feeling of cohesion and togetherness throughout the club and Leeann Dempster was undoubtedly the catalyst for that.
Dempster has also pioneered and backed the HSL group and their bid to acquire a majority shareholding in Hibernian football club. This has promoted further involvement and discussion between the club and the fans and there is a real sense that the club are starting to acknowledge and utilise the mammoth fan base that Hibs possess. Hibernian have always prided themselves on their community roots and this endorsement of HSL places the club in the hands of that community. It’s evident that the level of scepticism would be higher if Leeann Dempster hadn’t been involved in some way as she has successfully overseen an ownership transition before and has demonstrated that she has got the clubs best interests in mind.
Off-field progression cannot be understated but the unity at Hibs has allowed the team to thrive on the pitch and Leeann Dempster became the first Hibernian chief executive in over a century to hold the Scottish cup. No coincidence.
It hasn’t all been rainbows and rose petals for Leeann Dempster, and in the role of the chief executive you are defined by how you deal with pressure and adversity. Despite the historic cup success, Hibernian did not achieve their primary goal of gaining promotion to the Scottish premier league and were also left without a manager after the departure of Alan Stubbs. Leeann Dempster put her decisive nature to good use as the club went all out to make the most prestigious appointment in championship history. Neil Lennon was appointed within days of Stubbs’ departure and the clubs message couldn’t be clearer: Promotion is a necessity. Lennon sighted the ambition of the club as a large pull factor in him taking the position, and that ambition was absent two years previously, as was Leeann Dempster.
Leeann Dempster’s role in the revival of Hibernian cannot be understated and for the first time in recent history, Hibs are beginning to establish continuity and look to be on an upward trajectory. There is a structure in place and all it takes is a simple average attendance comparison to prove that the fans are buying into it.