After 26 years in charge of Manchester United Alex Ferguson has finally decided to take life a little easier by moving to a new role as a Director and Ambassador for the club. At 71 years of age he wants to move on, he is not as healthy as he used to be and is probably finding it tough to continue his punishing regime, especially when he is in need of a hip replacement operation. He will be aware of his own mortality and will have memories of being by the side of his mentor, the then Scotland manager Jock Stein when he died on the touchline during an international match from a heart attack.
Along the way he has become recognised as the most successful British football manager ever and arguably the world’s greatest. He is a true leader in his field both in achievement and the way he has gone about it. In his managerial career he has won 49 trophies in 39 seasons, including two Champions’ League titles. He has kept Manchester United the top performing team in the Premier League for 20 years, seeing off the challenges of tactician Arsene Wenger at Arsenal, the charisma of Jose Mourinho at Chelsea and the vast wealth of Manchester City. While other teams have constantly made managerial changes in the pursuit for glory, Ferguson has remained the captain of the United ship. The once great Liverpool of the 70’s and 80’s are a poor shadow of itself today after a host of poor performing managers with the failures of Graeme Souness still being felt today.
The question has to be how has he done it for so long and so consistently? Those that would like to knock his achievements will point to how his first years at United were not fruitful, that he inherited the Golden Generation of Butt, the Nevilles, Beckham, Giggs ,Scholes and the wealth of United would make anyone succeed. So let’s have a look at how he has done it.
Something that we talk about a lot in TomorrowToday are Disruptive factors in a business. Alex Ferguson was certainly a disruptive factor; he had already proven this in Scotland by upsetting the domination of Rangers and Celtic in Scotland whilst managing Aberdeen. When he arrived at United in 1986 things weren’t quite how he had hoped: the previous manager Ron Atkinson had spent all the money on dubious signings and the Edwards family were looking for a buyer and needed to re-fill the coffers. Ferguson systematically sold most of the players that Atkinson had brought in and United went from a pre-tax loss of £930K in season 87/88 to a profit of over £2 million in 88/89. Utimately the sale fell through, but this gave Ferguson the opportunity to spend time on his youth system, which he passionately believes in. Even though Ferguson was born in 1942 and would be considered to be from the Silent Generation he has great insight and respect from the then young Generation X development players. He went about nurturing them, caring for them and protecting them. He has many times been referred to as a father figure and continues to understand the Generation Y players that he has recently developed. He recognised the talent and went about keeping them. He made sure that they had good contracts, were well paid and looked after. The ensured the talent would have no desire to leave. He did however bring in tough rules that were to be broken at their peril; if they wanted the softer Gen X values, they would have to put up with the tough Silent Generation values of duty, discipline and dedication. Regardless of their stature, if they went against Ferguson’s values they would be subjected to the famous “hairdryer” and found themselves leaving the club regardless of who they were. Just ask Jaap Stam and David Beckham, respectively the world’s best defender at the time and the Golden Boy of English football. He insisted on being called Mr Ferguson or the Boss. He would show great loyalty to players and staff, but it would be according to his rules. By 1989 the chequebook was opened up to him and he brought in a host of talent to complement his budding stars.
He understood that if he were to pay top wages to keep and attract talent it would result in a better league position. A higher league position would result in increased annual revenue and then the cycle would begin again.
He has turned a provincial club with an annual turnover of about £7 million in 1986 to an International Superstar with a turnover of £320 million. He has attracted a host of footballing star talent to the club; Cantona, Keane, Ferdinand, Ronaldo and recently Van Persie. He has retained Giggs, Gary Neville and Scholes for their whole professional playing careers. He has inspired a host of former players to go into management – Robson, Hughes, Bruce, Coppell, Keane, Ince, Kanchelskis and the new Scotland manager Gordon Strachan to name a few.
What he has done is truly remarkable and of course there has to be an element of luck in it, but to have remained top of his chosen profession for over 20 years is outstanding He has done it through foresight, planning, understanding, professionalism, recognising talent, hard work and outstanding leadership. These were the Disruptive Factors of Ferguson that he brought into football.
What are the Disruptive factors that you should be looking at in your business sector that are going to change the way you work and operate? Understand these and you too could be the next Ferguson. Ignore them and you could be the next Graeme Souness.