Sir Alex at 80: Manchester United Legend's Philosophies On Life and Business Revisited
When you’ve appeared as a case study in the pages of the Harvard Business Review, it’s fair to say that you’re revered by your peers. The business world wasn’t where Sir Alex Ferguson cut his teeth. However, his two decades as one of the most inspirational football managers the beautiful game has ever seen has shown that those skills are transferable to the corporate environment.
The Scot’s business empire is now worth an estimated £17.5 million, with public speaking appearances, book deals and horse racing ownership just three of the strings in his bow. Ferguson could become even richer in March if the star of his stable Clan Des Obeaux can triumph in the Cheltenham Gold Cup. The nine-year-old is well supported in the latest horse racing betting odds despite the favouritism of defending champion A Plus Tard.
Happy 80th birthday, Sir Alex Ferguson! 🎂
We’ve been running a special series to mark the occasion, detailing how the former #MUFC manager came to dominate a sport so spectacularly, his business endeavours, what he’s doing now and much more.https://t.co/WW5zPU78QN
— The Athletic UK (@TheAthleticUK) December 31, 2021
Sir Alex turned 80 on New Year’s Eve, so now is as good a time as any to re-examine his philosophies on management and business that he honed as Manchester United boss and through his own commercial entities.
Building from the Ground Up
Any good business needs a firm foundation, and rather than relying on exorbitant transfer fees–Manchester United were not the richest club in the world when he took over–Sir Alex knew that creating talented players in-house was key. He oversaw the development of United’s youth academy and appointed a number of scouts to hunt down the most promising talents from across the land.
From that came the ‘Class of ‘92’, a golden generation of players that included David Beckham, Ryan Giggs and the Neville brothers. They formed the nucleus of the most successful Red Devils team in history, winning a stack of Premier League and Champions League titles.
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) April 17, 2020
“I wanted to build right from the bottom,” Ferguson said. “With this approach, the players all grow up together, producing a bond that, in turn, creates a spirit.”
The business lesson? Invest in your staff and provide the platform upon which they can excel.
Offer Praise… When Deserved
There are many different approaches to managing people, with some favouring the carrot-and-stick tactic and others a gentler, ‘arm around the shoulder’ philosophy.
Sir Alex became well known for his infamous ‘hairdryer treatment’, which would involve getting rather close to the faces of the players he perceived to be under-performing and leaving them in no doubt of his expectations.
On the other hand, he had the good sense to praise those who were delivering, albeit without going overboard. “For a player – and for any human being – there is nothing better than hearing ‘well done’. You don’t need to use superlatives.”
Reach for the Stars
When Sir Alex recruited new players for his Manchester United squad, he didn’t just judge them on their on-field skills and abilities. Personality was key as well.
He has revealed his philosophy of signing ‘bad losers’, i.e. those who would give everything to avoid tasting defeat. This is a recruitment tactic that can be deployed in any industry or niche–are you employing staff that want to be the very best they can be?
Maintaining high standards and setting great but realistic expectations for your team is crucial, as Sir Alex has proven. You can create your own version of the Old Trafford dynasty by following many of the examples Ferguson has provided.