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“Leading” is for Owner Managers (including the Glazers)

25th February 2016

It looks like the wee ugly one, aka Jose Mourinho might be the next in line to the throne at the theatre of dreams. Since Alex Ferguson’s departure it has often been a palace of torture for all the fans and no doubt also the board.

However the board have only themselves to blame because they failed to address the most obvious need of the organisation – to manage the succession of the greatest football manager of all time.

The greatest football manager of all time had flirted with retirement once before and surely by all standards having a 70 year old at the helm of any company is surely a signal to look to the future but the decision to retire was not planned from the boardroom .

Fergie’s retirement was sparked by the death of his sister in law and within a season he was away. In the season of his departure it appears that all the managers of top flight European clubs were tied up and David Moyes was the obvious candidate. In his book “Leading” this plan appears quite plausible.

Perhaps another course of reasoning could be followed:

The Glazers were largely laissez faire in their leadership and who could blame them as the partnership of  Alex Ferguson and David Gill (chief executive) had seen trophies and balance sheet successs appear routine. David Gill decided that he would go at the same time as Fergie; great timing once more for the board.

Alex Ferguson would care deeply about the future of the club and the Glazers would follow his lead on the plan to replace him.

Perhaps he made a classic mistake similar to that of many owner managers which was to recruit in his own image. David Moyes, a fellow Glaswegian had shown very steady effective management of smaller clubs , he had shown to have fierce determination, discipline and the Scottish work ethic. Not only did they appoint him, they gave him similar conditions to that which Fergie was afforded when he came to Man U in 1986 – time. So David Moyes was appointed and given given a 6 year deal. In simple terms the job proved too much for him and the precious commodity of time ran out under the pressure from the media and the fans.

When Alex Ferguson joined Manchester United it was a big small business, the owner Martin Edwards had inherited the family business and it operated efficiently within the parameters of match day revenue, standard sponsorship and the little contribution from TV. By the time Fergie was in his swan song period the business had grown by a factor of 4/5 times the size.

Although Man U is now a very big sporting brand, yet by financials and number of employees, the club is still a medium sized business. (Turnover c £400m employees c 800). Its biggest shareholding and influence on the board is in the hands of the Glazer family. The environment in which it operates is very different from the world of English football of the 80’s and 90′ s.Most notably the market for players and the market for managers has grown and spread with the same dynamic as the global reach of TV viewing and therein lies the issue with the final year or two of Ferguson at Manchester United – recruitment of players and succession plans for their leader.

Yet despite the very particular nature of a football club such as Man U and the unique leader that Ferguson was there are still  a number of wise strategies  which owner managers could take from the book. The sections on “listening” and “talking” are worthy of many a re-read. Here, in  summary, are my insights from throughout the book:

Take the long term view. “If you have owners or shareholders who only think about short term results, it brings a never ending cycle of misery for everyone.”

Build the organisation – constantly. “If you want to build a winning organisation you have to be prepared to carry on building everyday. You never stop building – if you do, you stagnate.”

Don’t set goals in specific terms but aim for the absolute best. ” My job was to set very high standards. It was to help everyone to believe they could do things they didn’t think they were capable of.”

Money isn’t the motivator. “The more powerful incentives are to appeal to their competitive instinct,the pride they have in their profession and the prospect of a winner’s medal.”

Don’t waste money – ever. “6 years before I retired the kit man told me that we were going through  hundreds of shirts. I told the players they could keep swapping their shirts but that they would have to pay for them out of their own pocket.”

Pursue perfection. “At United we are expected to win every game. I believe that and the route to that success was built on two things – continual devotion to improving technical skills and the constant enhancement of tactics”.

Be in your employees shoes. “At half time I would make some observations about what I had seen and try to tighten everything up. I made a habit of never going round issuing reminders to individual players. It just plants seeds of doubt in their minds and they are left wondering if the manager trusts them.”

Make it one team. “If the people within your organisation feel they are part of a community that has there interests at heart, they will develop great loyalty. I disagreed with the chairman when we were building Carrington – I wanted everyone to mingle and eat lunch together, not have a dining room for the 1st team only. Everyone felt part of the set up.”

We won’t see the likes of him again and it is hard to imagine that any manager will run a football club they way Fergie ran Man U, for that is what he did. It was his club, he ruled it, he lead it and shaped in his own image. Little wonder the Glazers couldn’t see beyond him.

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