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Manchester United – Alexander Ferguson Era

“Efficiency is doing things right; effectiveness is doing the right things.” said Peter Drucker. Also, Albert Schweitzer stated, “Example, is not the main thing in influencing others. It is the only thing.” Manchester United won ten Premier League championships, seven first divisional leagues championships, two second division league championship cups, eleven Football Association Challenge Cups, two League Cups, and sixteen Football Association Charity/Community Shields. In 1878, Manchester United was established and it did not gain its first Football Association Challenge Cup until 1909 versus Bristol Cup. The football club’s history was the definition of growth, reach, and endless possibilities. The team’s Matt Busby era created success, yet he left the new manager Alex Ferguson with serious hurdles to overcome. Elberse stated, (Manchester United) is “knocking close rival Liverpool FC off its perch as the club holding the most English league titles, successfully battling the fluid style of play which had brought London-based Arsenal FC three titles in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, and triumphing over the hundreds of millions of dollars Russian billionaire owner Roman Abramovich had invested in Chelsea FC” (Elberse, 2013, p.1). Also, FIFA, English Premier League, and Champions League competition was stiff and organizations risked quite a bit in trading, acquiring, and releasing players. Elberse stated, ”stadium-based revenues, broadcast, and other media revenues, and commercial revenues” are United’s main income source. (Elberse, 2013, p.2). Winning had to be required from the members of the club to sustain in the sports business. Sir Alex Ferguson won many awards for coaching such as four-time World Soccer Coach of the Year, eleven time English Coach of the Year, two time FIFA World Club Coach of the Year, one time UEFA Club Football Coach of the Year, two time UEFA Team of the Year, and four time LMA manager of the year. Ferguson maintained success through the eight parts of the “Ferguson formula” the focus, conflict management, business process, discernment, openness, operations management, and mentoring to guide the team to over a thousand wins under his management. Now, Sir Alex Ferguson teaches a seminar at Harvard University focusing his technical application of management science with Manchester United. My research explored his use of Hofstede’s cultural dimension leadership, job satisfaction, and total quality management to improve Manchester United during his tenure.

A manager must have an excellent management staff. Manchester United’s chief executive officer, marketing director, and trainers provided the support for reaching the same goals and objectives. The Glazer family owned the team, assistant coach Rene Meulensteen, chief executive officer David Gill, kit manager Albert Morgan, and team captain Bryan Robson helped to facilitate an environment of empowerment for Sir Ferguson and his players to become successful. Manchester United under Sir Ferguson displayed phenomenal coaching. Yet, Sir Ferguson was challenged at the beginning with the low team fitness, no celebrities, and drinking as the team’s culture. Elberse reported, Sir Ferguson “had a huge challenge on his hands…lacking fitness, star players with reputations not justified by their performances, and a pervasive drinking culture” (Elberse, 2013, p.6). Sir Ferguson realized that the team could enhance its opportunities with younger and talented player and make strategic player buyouts, commercial success, broadcasting rights, sold-out arena by creating ethical and legal environment. Elberse quoted Sir Ferguson as saying, ”I made it planning that I meant to put an end to United’s reputation of being almost as much a social as a football club” (Elberse, 2013, p.6). The threat of losing competitive advantage and successful momentum to competing football clubs fueled the motivation for some of Sir Ferguson’s speeches and talks to players. Elberse recounts Sir Ferguson speeches to his players, “When that cup is going to be presented just remember that you can’t even touch it if you’re the losers — you’ll be walking past it with your loser’s medals, knowing someone walking behind you is going lift the cup… So, I like to tell different stories, and use my imagination” (Elberse, 2013, p.7). These speeches were an injection of the high tide toward victory.

Five Porter’s forces and external factors shaped the direction of the team. The skillful manipulation economics of the soccer football business orchestrated by Sir Ferguson elevated their position. He developed and sold some of the greatest players in his twenty-five year career. Sir Ferguson created buying power through leveraging team prestige and discipline. The manager’s in-depth scouting knowledge of League and youth development players provided Manchester United with the needed supplier power. Closer examination of the interlocutor video pertaining to Harvard case study gives proof no one could substitute the formidable manager. The competitive power of the other Premier League football clubs forced Gill and Ferguson to reevaluate future goals and objectives. Elberse quoted Bell stating, “It’s on our backdoors the challenge from (Manchester) City seems more immediate. But Barcelona is just as much of a challenge, because Europe is a key part of our football and commercial goals” (Elbere, 2013, p.14). The brand has garnered the attention of more than six hundred million followers. The Manchester United manager has entered the market of teaching the “Ferguson Formula”. Sir Ferguson’s management stretched the generative elements of Porter’s five forces and the political, social, environmental, technological, ethical, and legal regulations of the International Federation of Association Football to generate the biggest stars and unbelievable wins in soccer history.

Sir Alex Ferguson’s job performance was extraordinary. A closer look shows that his career held some key blunders. The departure of three key fan-favorites in 1995, announcing retirement in 2002, and selling an player who proved to be productive for another six years. These types of decisions showed that production should be valued more than participation in certain events. Atchinson and Lefferts report, “Herzberg’s positive events are a reflection of the decision to produce or motivation in the March and Simon’s model, while the negative events are related to the decisions to participate.” (Atchison and Lefferts, 1972, p.63). The researchers did a study on Air Force pilots willingness to stay or leave after positive and negative events. The findings above show that decision to motivate created positive events while participation created negative events. In 2001, after the motivational league championship win he became more participatory and made two moves that were ‘negative events’ in his storied career. Elberse reported, “Ferguson announced his intention to retire… he soon realized he had made a mistake… Lazio came through with a $24 million offer, so I sold him (Stam)… it turned out to be a big mistake… Real Madrid acquired Beckham for $46 million.” (Elberse and Dye, 2013, p. 7). Boudway reports, “the end of a disappointing season, the club fired Moyes (Ferguson successor)… Ferguson’s final act proved a failure” (Boudway, 2014, p.1). In spite of these jerkwater miscalculations, Sir Ferguson reinvested in his strong culturally diverse youth and mentored Ronaldo and Rooney. His smooth style of face to face communication with player and opposing managers alike became notorious. The pre-game tactical deliberation with non-starting players communicating their strategic reserve on the team kept them engaged with the organization. The contending manager enjoyed wine with the renowned manager no matter the outcome with Sir Alex Ferguson. He kept himself above the opprobrious of the sport.

The masterminds of the game Rinus Michels, Jose Mourinho, Helenio Herrara, and Sir Alexander Ferguson are prim examples of Hofstede’s Uncertainty Avoidance Index. The case study reveals that Sir Ferguson worked to decrease the dissonance of uncertain outcome and vied for a higher dimension. Almarie Munley stated, “UAI deals with a society’s tolerance for uncertainty and ambiguity: it ultimately refers to a man’s search for the Truth.” (Munley, 2011, p.17). Soccer fans have come to understand the vagueness championship hopes. Every team bolsters rosters with superior athletes and promise victories. The challenges in the soccer business have become very great at the peak of the English Premier League. Manchester United has operated at this pinnacle of the sport. Yet, great managers leverage efficiency and effectiveness to produce winning teams. Trust, values, utilitarian rule, and face to face communication were the components of success. Sir Ferguson never promised or vowed victory only contention against the very best football clubs. His dignity and commitment to Manchester United compelled him to show face win, lose, or draw. Elberse stated, “I never say we will win the league, but I would be very disappointed if we did not seriously contend for it” (Elberse, 2013, p.14). Managers use many psychological mechanisms to create trust such as similarity, mere exposure, reciprocity, flattery, and self-affirmation. Sir Alex Ferguson is a master of negotiations with opposing managers and players. Elberse and Dye recalled, “After his media obligations, Ferguson typically concluded the evening by having glass of wine with the coach of the visiting team in his office in the stadium… ‘Win, lose, or draw…. We show our face, and keep our dignity. We are Manchester United.” (Elberse and Dye, 2013, p. 10). He use psychological mechanisms to control the circumstances of forces outside the sport which could potential disrupt the effective drive of Manchester United soccer club to win. Sir Alex Ferguson was a master as controlling the uncertainty of soccer. The opposing manager felt because of the high level of honor he showed them in the sports he not only deserved to win, but to become recognized as a great manager. A manager’s ability to build trust and exhibit organizational values to even a foe makes them irreplaceable and a central position within their organization. Also, Sir Alex Ferguson was able to exchange his knowledge of the finer points of soccer, highlight his key players, uncover enormous brand awareness, and offer concessions to opposing coaches. He positioned himself build alliances for future acquisitions of potential players based on building trust. He developed values in his player by instilling belief in themselves and each other, which help develop real people that fans could identify and love. His players worked for his appreciation, direction, and piece de resistance. Elberse stated on Ferguson’s power, “For a player and for any human being there is nothing better than hearing ‘well done’… the two best words ever invented in sports.” (Elberse, 2013, p. 10). He used his presence created a family atmosphere as he delegated authority to assistant coaches, assistants, and scouts to handle to increase his physical presence during practices, open door, and one on one communication. Sir Ferguson utilized the high channel richness of open door and face to face communication because he needed to illuminate his personality, contextual culture, and receive immediate feedback. His skillful application of the utilitarian rule denoted his keen belief that no one was greater than the organization Manchester United. Elberse stated, “the manager talked to the players who were not starting but might have been expecting to… I do them all myself. It is important.” (Elberse, 2013, p.8). Sir Ferguson respected the gravity of great communication and maximized its power to build a powerful sports organization.

The ability to manage requires innovation and leadership. Sir Ferguson wrote out clear vision of a well scouted and train team utilized cutting edge methods and training devices. Markert, Simon, and Miller stated, “W. Edward Deming’s fourteen points for quality can be adapted for A/E firms… provide constant improvement of products and services with the aim of being competitive” (Markert, Simon, and Miller, 1999, p. 4). The decisions Manchester management made to offer new technologies for athletes was very important. Elberse stated, “he (Sir Ferguson) could talk enthusiastically about the new Vitamin D machine… had championed the use of player vests fitted with GPS systems that enabled an analysis of a player’s physical performance a mere twenty minutes after a training” (Elberse, 2013, p. 12). These innovations in technology nurtured performance improvement, which increases the player’s quality of play. “Investing in the sort of facilities that will attract youngsters and in particular sway their parent… You can not sell the dream of the future come true (Ferguson & Moritz, 2015). Technology gave Manchester United an opportunity to prepare for the future and remain competitive among the English Premier League football clubs. Manchester United invested in young players like Ronaldo and Rooney who were in the youth development organization establishing trust and commitment then receiving large financial commitments from the football club. Markert, Simon, and Miller stated, “end the practice of awarding business on the basis price tag… core idea behind these points is teamwork… the ability of different partners… to work together to improve the process” (Makert, Simon, and Miller, 1999, p. 4). Sir Ferguson’s Ferguson Formula provided successful docket to administering a game, club, and season for anyone who would want to be a manager. Elberse stated, “Ferguson would often direct his men forward, encouraging them to attack… there is nothing better than hearing ‘well done’… ” (Elberse, 2013, p. 9). Munley stated a leader as, “a focus of attention, as a representative of a group… a leader is often defined as a simply as anyone who engages in leadership acts… this is a positive influence” (Munley, 2011, p.19). Sir Ferguson’s egalitarian and assertive personality ‘never changed’ and offered the business of Manchester United a tool for individuals to leverage to ecological and ad hominem fallacies against prejudice and bias.

The combination of discipline and motivation helped to propel Sir Ferguson to pinnacle of the managerial excellence. Yet, challenges and mistakes were opportunities that the he seized, obscured, reduced, and subverted. He gave succinct speeches that encouraged and breathed life into his champions. Sir Ferguson’s ‘Ferguson Formula’ establish him as an institutional manager that taught his ideology of managerial accountability to himself, players, management team, and ownership.


Ferguson, Alex, and Michael Moritz. Leading. Hodder, 2021.

Boudway, I. (2014). Five Tips for Surviving Sir Alex Ferguson’s Harvard Business School Class. Bloomberg.Com, 3.

Boudway, I. (2014). U JUST CAN’T WIN. Bloomberg Businessweek, (4377), 90.

Elberse, A., & Ferguson, A. (2013). Ferguson’s Formula. Harvard Business Review, 91(10), 116–125.

Atchison, T. J., & Lefferts, E. A. (1972). THE PREDICTION OF TURNOVER USING HERZBERG’S JOB SATISFACTION TECHNIQUE. Personnel Psychology, 25(1), 53–64.

Lewis, B. J., Markert, C. D., Simon, R. C., & Miller, R. M. (1999). Forget About 2000 What About 2010? Journal of Management in Engineering, 5, 1–9. Retrieved April 18, 2016.

Munley, A. E. (2011). Culture Differences in Leadership. The IUP Journal of Soft Skills, V(1), 1–16. Retrieved April 18, 2016.


Author: William Howard, CM

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