As a fervent Manchester City fan it sticks in the craw a bit to be praising the sworn enemy but on the back of our 4-1 demolition of United a week or so ago, I’ll choke down the chicken bone just this once. Sir Alex Ferguson has been an outstanding leader and manager. There, I said it.

I don’t know many people that last 26 years in any job, let alone as a manager in the English Premier League. Certainly not in the cut-throat environment of the past decade where billionaire owners demand results or your head on a platter. His longevity alone is proof that he stood above the pack. Throw in 13 premierships and another couple of dozen trophies and his success speaks for itself.

It turns out Fergie and I have some things in common – off the pitch at least. We’re talking in terms of leadership principles. My eldest son Ben, a lost cause as a Manchester United supporter, sent me a summary of a piece on the latest edition of the Harvard Business Review. A must-read that looks into Fergie’s formula for success. It provides insights from the man himself on how he went about building Manchester United into the club it is today. Eight key lessons are drawn out:

  • Start with the foundation
  • Dare to rebuild your team
  • Set high standards and hold everyone to them
  • Never, ever cede control
  • Match the message to the moment
  • Prepare to win
  • Rely on the power of observation
  • Never stop adapting

A lot of what he talks about is directly applicable to business and are ideas I like to emphasise. At its core, Fergie’s formula is about having a strong vision and delivering on it through strong leadership. It’s about people – understanding what they need and how they can succeed. Teaching them to accept nothing less than winning. Practice like it’s the real thing so you’re prepared for all scenarios. Control change by accepting it.

He also makes valuable points about culture, trust and community. A club, or business, is bigger than one person. It’s about working for your mates and trusting they’re working for you. As he says: “The minute staff members are employed, you have to trust that they are doing their jobs. If you micromanage and tell people what to do, there is no point in hiring them.”

So while I’m a lifelong City boy who will never cheer for Fergie’s lads on the pitch, I’m willing to admire how he goes about life off it. Well done Fergie, you’ve earned your retirement.

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Kevin Roberts

Kevin Roberts is founder of Red Rose Consulting; business leader and educator; author and speaker; adviser on marketing, creative thinking and leadership.


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