LEEANN DEMPSTER is recounting a career path which is as eccentric as it eclectic.

"You'll have a laugh at this one," she promises. "I had a brainwave and decided to try to become an undertaker."

As she points out, the Motherwell chief executive did not get to where she is today by studying for a master of business administration degree. Dempster was brought up in the east end of Glasgow, left school and home at 17, and was rejected half a dozen times by the British Army because of poor vision in one eye.

This aspiration, desperation even, to join the armed forces – she was no more successful with the Navy or RAF – seems at odds with a teenager who had strong left-wing political views. Dempster, who is now 42, does not demur. But having been rejected she decided to offer her services to the deceased, instead. Don't ask. Yet it is indicative of her determined nature that she threw herself into the task. "I got the Yellow Pages and wrote to all the 48 undertakers listed," she says. "Most of them were all-male family concerns, but one firm took me on as a trainee and I absolutely loved it. I did all the unpleasant stuff from day one."

That Dempster became a football chief executive instead of a funeral director can be traced to an call offering her work experience with an advertising agency. She went from comforting the bereaved and dressing bodies to an environment which partied and dressed up the facts. She loved the creativity and buzz of that, too. Dempster spent a long time in adland, working her way up to account director. She enjoyed working on Scottish Government business, but it was when she successfully pitched for the Zoom Airlines account that she entered John Boyle's orbit.

Dempster joined the short- lived budget airline as sales and marketing director two years before its untimely demise. After the last rites were conferred, she was offered an enhanced job with her old agency but lasted only a morning before deciding it wasn't the right move. A couple of weeks later Boyle called and said he wanted her to take a look at how Motherwell was being run.

It was only supposed to last a few weeks, but Dempster says: "The minute I walked in the door I told myself 'I love this place'. It's a feeling that has never left me, even when I was almost hyperventilating in frustration at the way I found football was being run."

Boyle installed her first as general manager, then chief executive. The temptation is to make a comparison with Karren Brady, particularly as both are in their early forties and arrived in football from advertising agencies. It's not an impression which survives much conversation with Dempster. "She's much better at promoting herself than I am, let's put it that way," she says.

With Boyle's 73% stake due to be gifted to the Well Society if they can raise the £1.5m needed to convince the main shareholder that there will be sufficient reserves in the bank to cope with difficult trading periods, Dempster is well placed to comment on fan ownership. It is an ideal that sits comfortably with her and Boyle, and she is now trying to convince local businesses to take stakes in the Well Society, which has already raised £400,000 through individuals.

"Something like the Well Society is a better model than one individual owning a club," she asserts. "The ideal would be a group of [wealthy] individuals with a fan ownership model running in tandem. The notion you are throwing money into a black hole by owning a football club is not true, especially where the bigger clubs are concerned.

"At Motherwell we have a limited fanbase because we are competing with the Old Firm on our doorstep. But if you are asking about Hearts, the debt burden there is the issue. Once that has a resolution, through administration, Hearts would be an ideal proposition for a consortium type arrangement of individuals and fan ownership – they have 10,000 season ticket holders and are based in a city. There are a lot of people who could become involved and this is could be a great opportunity for the rebirth of a big club."

At Motherwell, the club is reaching out to the community in a sustained manner. It's an approach which meets the aims of Dempster and Boyle, while also sowing the seeds for the fanbase to increase. When Boyle was actively involved prior to Motherwell's administration in 2002 there was much talk about a "Third Way". It was gobbledegook to most, but under Dempster there is very tangible evidence of the club's educational and community work.

What has this got to do with football? It is a question assured to ignite the chief executive's evangelical zeal for her work. "A club has a green pitch, four stands that don't get used and rooms that don't get used," she points out. "You have to open your doors wide open and say: come and use our facilities.

"You have a duty not just to the supporters, but to the people in the community. Clubs have the ability to influence people in a way no other organisation does. The government pays fortunes to put adverts in local papers, but we can get messages to people here in a non-threatening, non-finger wagging way.

"The work we do here changes lives. People come to our ground every day and go through further education courses, undergo personal development and none of it is a box-ticking exercise. It enables them to move on and improve their lives. When that happens it affects their families and it all dribbles down. That is the enrichment a football club can give a community.

"It gets me a little bit annoyed when we don't harness this power. It's quite a straightforward thing to do. If it is done properly, putting a high level commitment and energy into engaging with people through sport will get you massive results."

Given the sense of belonging being generated at Motherwell, it is perhaps no coincidence that the performance side has also been successful. Final league placings have been outstanding, while, with the exception of the short-lived tenure of Jim Gannon, managers have done much better at Fir Park than they have anywhere else. Stuart McCall's recent decision to reject a move to Sheffield United was yet another indicator the club offers a healthy working environment.

"We try to build relationships based on honesty," says Dempster. "Before Stuart joined we told him exactly what kind of club we are. We could take masses of risks, but the rewards aren't there to make it worthwhile. Players come and go, but what is most important is the club and its survival."

Dempster was deliberately chosen by Boyle not just because he had employed her at Zoom, but because he wanted an outsider, somebody who wasn't steeped in football and all its tired cliches. Somebody who would take a jaundiced view of all the hand-me-down insider mistakes which have dragged Scottish football to its current floundering depths.

She admits the time might arrive when she needs to look for fresh challenges, but wants to stay in a sporting environment. She has ditched her ambitions to be a soldier, an undertaker and an advertising executive. Her political views have mellowed. There's plenty of time for more inscriptions on her tombstone.