The most successful manager in British football history, Sir Alex Ferguson, has landed a job off the field. He will be a lecturer to senior executives from around the world at Harvard Business School in a new program yet to be launched entitled ‘The Business of Entertainment, Media and Sports.’ The former manager of the English Premier league club Manchester United, which he coached for 26 straight seasons, will undertake his new position from May 7-10, when the program takes place.
Ferguson — the coach of one of the world’s most successful clubs, a team that he built right from the bottom upon his arrival in Manchester in 1986 — retired at the end of the 2012-2013 season. His praised and documented management virtues, which led him to win 13 English league titles along with 25 other domestic and international trophies, will most likely be among the main themes in the syllabus during his stint at the Ivy League university.
Some of the Scot’s techniques include practices usually absent in the business world workforces. For starters, recognizing an efficient and impressive job by saying “well done.” “Those are the two best words ever invented. You don’t need to use superlatives,” as Ferguson has it. On the other hand he will need to revisit some of his management strategies when teaching senior executives — methods intrinsic to any coach and developed throughout the years — such as intimidation and provocation, through which he got Manchester United to clinch late-game victories. His advice to aspiring managers when dealing with recalcitrant players? Tell them the truth. “There is nothing wrong with presenting the hard facts to a player who has lost his form.”
This “long term teaching position” isn’t his first encounter with the prestigious institution: he was the protagonist of a case study for the Harvard Business School undertaken by professor Anita Elberse in 2012. Through a series of interviews he explained what he thought were the eight key elements of his job as a soccer coach including “match the method to the moment” and “rely on the power of observation.”
A new trend seems to be establishing here on behalf of big coaches from the English Premier league soccer. In July Ferguson’s then rival manager Arsène Wenger, the French coach of the London based club Arsenal, highlighted three areas of similarity between management in top-level business and top-level soccer. Will his classes prove effective? We will only know when those who attend translate the notes taken at the Cambridge campus to their companies’ day-to-day management and activities. For now, Ferguson must be preparing the courses starters to see if the students will then score the winning goals.