Born in Peru
Sold his US business for $75m
Considered buying an English club
There were the usual promises to fulfil the ambitions of a “phenomenal club” and usher in a new trophy-laden era of success, but it won’t take the supporters of Hibernian FC long to start asking questions of new owner Ronald Gordon.
The US-based businessman, bearing a distinctly Scottish name and the smart grooming and tan of a wealthy American, was presented to the media at Easter Road and declared that the club should be challenging for the top three or four places in the SPL, stressing that it “would be great for the game to have more competition”. He also admitted that he had a lot to learn. Breaking the Scottish duopoly, with a revitalised Rangers better armed to take on Celtic, will test the limits of his ambitions.
He has pledged to invest, but there was no word on exactly how much would be available, beyond stating it would be a seven-figure sum, said to be about £6m, and the club will be debt-free. It was clear that his plan is to grow the club’s young players through a beefed-up academy, rather than “bid for one player”. Manager Paul Heckingbottom should not expect an open cheque book to bring in big names.
So who is Ronald Gordon? He has a multi-national background, born in Peru where his Aberdeenshire grandfather emigrated from Tomintoul in 1908. Young Ronald was educated at a British school in Lima, where he developed a love of football. When he was 15 the family moved to the US and he then studied in Sydney, Australia before returning to the US to complete his studies at Syracuse University.
In 1998 he was the founder and majority shareholder of ZGS Communications, an independent broadcasting and media company in Virginia serving the Spanish-speaking community in the US. Gordon sold the business to Comcast/NBC Universal in 2017. He declined to reveal details of the transaction, though records show it was sold for $75m, a decent return on Gordon’s initial $200 investment.
Over the years he has picked up numerous accolades including five Emmys and a White House Achievement Award. He extended his business interests by setting up John Marshall Bank, a community bank serving the Washington DC area and it now has assets of $1.4 billion.
Throughout his professional life he has supported a number of community-based organisations, including those serving people in need. This will have been a factor in Sir Tom Farmer’s decision to let him buy his shares in Hibs. Gordon has set up Byland Sports as a vehicle to acquire the shares. Byland is the motto of Clan Gordon, derived from Bide and Fecht, meaning stay and fight.
Sir Tom, who made his fortune by similarly creating and selling a business, was persuaded to buy the club in 1991, because he realised how much it meant to the people of Leith. Soon to turn 79, he told Daily Business that he had received at least 10 offers in recent years and made it clear at the handover that he had wanted “the right people with the right finance to take the club forward, and we have found the right person in Ron.” He added: “Because of his success he knows he has to put something back into the community.”
Gordon, 63, approached Hibs chairman Rod Petrie in December and Sir Tom decided the “time was right” to “get off the bus”. He admitted he was sad to be handing over, but said it was the right decision.
The new owner declared Hibs to be a “phenomenal club” but admitted that it was not his first choice. He had looked at buying a football club for some years in Scotland, England, Spain and America. He made an “expression of interest” in a non-Premier League English club and had considered another Scottish club.
He said despite living in the US he would not be an absentee owner and that it was important for him to be involved as much as possible.
Speaking about his business success, he said: “I was very blessed as a business person, the people I worked with and, ultimately, the result. Everyone looks at the destination, but for me the best part was the journey.
“So hopefully we will have a great destination with Hibs, but I am going to try to love every day as we go through it.
“It’s not going to be perfect, I am sure we will make some mistakes. But I hope over a period of time we are going to have more success.”