Over his time in charge, Ferguson has not only seen off numerous challengers who have attempted to unseat Manchester United as the dominant force in English football, he has also lead the club during the transformation of the English game, and Manchester United itself, into a global business and one of the world's most recognisable brands. The challenges faced by Ferguson have transformed over time, but he has taken this in his stride and built Manchester United into the institution that it is today, largely in his own image. It is clear, therefore, that not only is Sir Alex Ferguson a peerless football manager, but that he is also an outstanding business leader. So for those interested in how to lead a business, what can we learn from Sir Alex?
Much has been made of Sir Alex's famous "hairdryer" treatment, but Ferguson's approach to managing his team was far more nuanced than that. He often demonstrated fierce loyalty to his players in sometimes difficult circumstances (Rio Ferdinand and Eric Cantona during their respective bans and Wayne Rooney after his request to leave Manchester United, all received Ferguson's public backing, to cite a few examples). He would usually defend his staff in public after poor performances or media criticism. Not only this, but Ferguson showed an ability to connect with his players, and has often showed a far more loving side than that which is portrayed in the media. Former players such as David Beckham and Cristiano Ronaldo have spoken of Ferguson as a father figure (despite his well publicised falling out with Beckham), and it is this ability to connect which has ensured that players year-on-year always gave their best for him.
He also had a clear understanding of what made certain players tick and managed to coax performances out of otherwise difficult characters. His ability to manage young players, many of whom were millionaires as teenagers, was also second to none. He ensured that such players remained grounded and that there was no sense of entitlement before their achievements on the park merited it.
As an industry where the average tenure of a manager is less than two years, Premiership football can often be consumed by short-term thinking. This is a trap Sir Alex Ferguson never fell into. He was always thinking a few steps ahead, and always trying to usher in the next generation of players. Never did he rest and reflect on a job well done. He knew that success can often be transient and he recognised the need to continue improving and adapting even as your greatest triumph was unfolding. This was reflected in the way he often ruthlessly dispensed with older players whose performances were declining, but also in the way he continually gave opportunities and encouragement to younger players.
Ferguson took up his first managerial post in 1974, and took over at Manchester United in 1986. Back then, computer analysis of player performance was non-existent and there was still a strong drinking culture in the Manchester United dressing room. Such circumstances are almost inconceivable now. The game has moved on almost immeasurably from when Sir Alex Ferguson first entered Old Trafford, and he has moved on with it. He has recognised that despite his vast experience, he can always learn more and has shown a willingness to do so.
I think the above qualities are just a few which Sir Alex Ferguson has brought to Manchester United during his time there, and ones which all businesspeople can draw lessons from on how to lead and perform in a high-pressure environment.