IT Management and Soccer: “The Ferguson Factor”

One of the events that will be remembered from the year 2013 is the voluntary retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson as manager of Manchester United (ManUnited), the world's most valuable football franchise. After 26 seasons at the helm, with 13 "Premier League" titles and 25 other trophies, he holds what appears an unbeatable record.

It is said that Steve Jobs was to Apple what was Ferguson was to Manchester United. The story did not have a smooth start. In 1986 ManUnited were second from bottom and risked going down a division, while Ferguson had won major 10 trophies at Aberdeen, including one European trophy after beating Real Madrid in the final. Ferguson accepted the challenge and managed a come back at ManUnited to finish that year 11th out of 22 teams. What did this manager do to go from a delicate situation to staying 26 seasons in a competitive environment? What qualities did he display during those years to achieve his goal and retire on top?

Anita Elbense, a professor at the Harvard Business School, took the opportunity to analyze Ferguson's occur and identified 8 lessons to be learned from his tenure at the club:

Lesson 1: Create the foundation for development: The first thing he did was to reorganize the squad of young players. The best-known player who came out of this: David Beckham.

Lesson 2: He dared to rebuild the team: Even in times of success, Sir Alex had the courage to reorganize his team, understanding that he must give other players an opportunity. He was a scholar of information on player transfer fees, proving to be an effective manager of his institution's portfolio.

Lesson 3: Set high standards and require that all employees adhere to them. Ferguson always expressed his passion for instilling values. Rather than teaching specific techniques, he tried and succeeded in inspiring his players to never stop improving.

Lesson 4: Never give up control. Sir Alex explained that, as he was dealing with 30 millionaire players, he could not afford to lose control. He was very severe with those who did not behave according to the standards he set. 

Lesson 5: Finding the right message for a specific moment: One of his key qualities was his ability as a communicator. While he was a very demanding manager, he always took care to convey the right message.

Lesson 6: Prepare the team to win. He instilled such an appetite for victory in his players that even when the score was against them they never dropped their heads.

Lesson 7: Trust in the power of observation. Sir Alex believes a fundamental quality in "management" to be observation, and, to take this even further, developing the skill of seeing details that others miss.

Lesson 8: Never stop adapting: Handling change was his hallmark. Football has developed enormously in the last 25 years, and Sir Alex managed to adapt and always stay on top. This is probably the biggest challenge met by any successful manager.

It is hard to find a milestone for management like Sir Alex Ferguson. In today's very complex and competitive environment, we should treasure the lessons to be learned from him. The Ferguson Factor is sure to be studied with deep interest at business schools.