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Getting the best out of the team

Getting the best out of the team

After 27 seasons at the helm of Manchester United Football Club, Sir Alex Ferguson has announced his retirement. Winning thirteen Premier League titles, five FA Cups and 2 UEFA Champions League titles in the ‘up-this-year, out-the-next’ world of professional sport is an extraordinary result.

Sustaining peak performance over not just years but decades may be the single most difficult challenge for executives.

In a recent case study entitled Sir Alex Ferguson: Managing Manchester United, Harvard Business School Professor Anita Elberse said of Ferguson, “He seemingly knows what to say when and understands what different players need . . . He holds everyone to the same high standards but will tailor his approach to different personalities”.

He is commanding when the situation requires. As Ferguson himself said, “You can’t ever lose control – not when you are dealing with 30 top professionals who are all (multi) millionaires. And if anyone steps out of my control, that’s them dead”.

Getting the best out of the team is every leader’s challenge and Australian business is no different. We believe that the business boat a manager gets into is arguably more important than how good a rower the manager is, but when a great business boat meets a great manager, the ride for investors can be as long and as enjoyable as it was for Sir Alex and Man U.


Chief Executive Officer of Montgomery Investment Management, David Buckland has over 30 years of industry experience. David is a deeply knowledgeable and highly experienced financial services executive. Prior to joining Montgomery in 2012, David was CEO and Executive Director of Hunter Hall for 11 years, as well as a Director at JP Morgan in Sydney and London for eight years.

This post was contributed by a representative of Montgomery Investment Management Pty Limited (AFSL No. 354564). The principal purpose of this post is to provide factual information and not provide financial product advice. Additionally, the information provided is not intended to provide any recommendation or opinion about any financial product. Any commentary and statements of opinion however may contain general advice only that is prepared without taking into account your personal objectives, financial circumstances or needs. Because of this, before acting on any of the information provided, you should always consider its appropriateness in light of your personal objectives, financial circumstances and needs and should consider seeking independent advice from a financial advisor if necessary before making any decisions. This post specifically excludes personal advice.

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  1. Fergie was big on finding talent early and training them up to play the way he wanted so that he could indoctrinate them, iron out the bad habits and develop a winning culture. Most high performing firms like the Big 4 Accounting Partnerships and McKinsey & Co. thrive on this culture which makes their staff highly sought after outside of the professional services realm (i.e. a lot of employers only want people with this background for certain positions because the the bar is set high and you have a reasonable idea of what you are getting). In fact McKinsey used to have a policy that prohibited employment of staff with external experience because they were “tainted” by poor process and work ethics – maybe that’s a little extreme. The development of the individual within the team environment mirrors Fergie’s approach. I know of graduates with 2-3 years experience in these firms who are hungrier and could manage certain business functions better than some highly paid department heads with 20 years in business, which is an enditement on business in this country. When you leave an environment like that and move into many of the country’s largest companies, you begin to see the ingrained mediocrity seeping through every level of management. Listed businesses need to do a lot more to recruit quality, raise the bar and appropriately train and develop staff. If you read between the lines of former United players who have gone elsewhere, you can generally pick up on the theme that the management and team environment at United was almost second to none (and this is coming from someone who does not support them).

  2. Roger Gibson

    Sir Alex also recognises when its time to go unlike some of our business and political leaders. As a Mancunian and City supporter I can’t help having mixed feelings about some of his success.

  3. Andrew Legget

    Or if things go really bad you could always throw/kick a boot at one of your more high profile players giving him a cut above the eye.

    My opinion has been that he mainly led by fear, but perhaps in this case it was warranted considering the players, wages and egos under his control. He at least wasn’t afraid of making a change that would benefit the overall team even if people disagreed with him or pulling high profile players into line if they went outside it.

    There are definitley some lessons to learn, i don’t think Alex Ferguson suffered from decision paralysis, he was ready and willing to change when the situation demands it and that is something a lot of businesses (hello DJ’s) do not do very well and could learn from.

  4. Hi Roger, nice analogy. Be interested to hear your thoughts as to whether Man Utd – listed on the NYSE – is a good investment? Debt levels are far to high though. Cheers

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