Tim Witcherley

6 management lessons from Sir Alex Ferguson

by Tim Witcherley on May 30, 2013



26-years as manager of Manchester United, 13 Premier League Titles, 2 Champions Leagues, 5 FA Cups, 4 League Cups

If we take his detailed knowledge of the beautiful game as read, then what sets Sir Alex Ferguson and indeed other successful managers apart? Many have the relevant badges, knowledge and expertise, but nowhere near the same amount of silverware Fergie has accumulated and tucked away in his Scotch cabinet.

Peter Schmeichel, former Manchester United goalkeeper, famously once said: ‘There are thousands of better coaches. But management? The handling of men? There’s nobody better’.

So, how did the man sitting in the Director’s deckchair at the Theatre of Dreams achieve such high-levels of respect and performance from his actors, and what can those in business take away from his illustrious career?

Here are 6 lessons we can learn from Sir Alex’s management tenure:

1. Reevaluate your goals - After the class of 99’ won the treble, many questioned if there was much more Sir Alex could achieve. Granted, he never did the treble again, but 14 years on in 2013, Manchester United lifted the Premier League trophy once again. What drives him to so eagerly contend each title, year after year, with such aggression and determination? With the beginning of each season came a revaluation of goals for both himself and his team. As soon as a goal was achieved, the next target was already being set.

2. Play to your strengths –Arguably it’s his aggression, temper and determination to win at all costs that has shaped the mentality of Manchester United for the past 27 years – it became one of his USPs from which his success stemmed from. Sir Alex stated shortly after his retirement, that ‘he loved those last minute goals’. To any spectator, regardless of which team they supported, it was quite clear that Fergie’s team channeled the same sheer-bloody mindedness to succeed. This is why there were so many last minute, dramatic winners, in, aptly named ‘Fergie time’.

3. Be consistent – People don’t always recall how close Sir Alex was to losing his position as Manchester United manager in 1989 before it had even really got going. Fans were calling for his head. Although a string of titles throughout his early years, it wasn’t until the 1992-93 season that United won their first Premier League title. Ferguson’s consistency had bought a sense of continued stability to Old Trafford, and they have been successfully competing for the league title and in every European and domestic competition since. Potential and current customers and clients want to see this same consistent level of excellence, and are usually happy to invest in a product or service they can rely on, time after time. Likewise, one hiccup, however minor, can ruin a reputation forever.

4. Practice financial nous – It goes without saying that in business you should always monitor your business’ cash flow, and being able to recognise a profitable opportunity when it comes along is a real skill. Fergie was renowned for making shrewd financial decisions. Most recently, the acquisition of Robin Van Persie, but perhaps Fergie’s greatest skill was realising when it was time for players to move on. He wasn’t afraid to let top players go even when they were at the peak of their game. Paul Ince (£7.5million) Cristiano Ronaldo (£54million) and David Beckham (£24.5million) are all obvious examples. He reinvested the money, and although impossible to see how life would have been had these top players carried on, it seems his calculated financial dealings have paid off.

5. Eat, sleep and breathe company values – There is no doubt Manchester United is Sir Alex Ferguson and vice versa, which is why the impending departure and arrival of David Moyes is such a daunting challenge. Everything Manchester United stood for was embodied in one man, and a key group of players such as Paul Scholes, Gary Neville, and Ryan Giggs. This same ethos can be translated into the business environment. From the management team downwards, company and brand values should be breathed in, eaten daily, and slept on. They should become a part of you and every single one of your employees, so the values are being upheld every minute of everyday.

6. Implement a dynamic team – Whether it was Brian Kidd or more recently Mike Phelan sitting on the bench next to him, or Steve Bruce, Roy Keane or Rio Ferdinand out on the field in front of him, Sir Alex had the right leadership team around him at all times. This was not good-fortune, as his ability to nurture relationships, and pass on his knowledge to his leaders on and off the field has played a major part of his unrivalled success. The right people in key positions has proved of paramount importance.

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Tim Witcherley

This post was written by Tim Witcherley

As Cognition's Managing Director, Tim sets by example by being an incredibly driven and commercial businessman who has built a very impressive marketing consultancy which has continued to grow year on year. With a very straight and honest approach to business, he ensures he gets the best results for his clients and builds strong partnerships with his suppliers.

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