‘What’s the point in killing them the next day?’ Sir Alex Ferguson’s lessons from the top

Sir Alex Ferguson
Sir Alex Ferguson
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Sir Alex Ferguson has revealed what he is most proud of during his career as manager of Manchester United.

“It’s consistency. That’s my strong point,” he told an audience of entrepreneurs in Monaco today.

“It’s important that you stand by your beliefs and philosophy and don’t change. That allowed me to manage Manchester United for the length of period I did.”

The 72-year-old won 38 trophies during his 26 years at the helm, making him the most successful coach in the history of international football.

He has since taken up a teaching position on Harvard Business School’s executive education programme.

Taking part in an interview at Monte Carlo’s opera house, Sir Alex discussed leadership, man management and his formative years in Glasgow.

“A journalist once wrote I did well despite coming from Govan. It’s because I came from Govan that I did well,” he said.

He paid tribute to his parents, his teacher and his Boys’ Brigade officer and said he was fortunate to grow up in a working-class neighbourhood which valued loyalty.

On becoming manager of Manchester United in 1986, he made an effort to speak to everybody at the club from the top to the bottom.

“Get to know every person,” he said. “Recognition is an important step in creating a loyalty base.”

He said he worked to develop his players by creating strong characters and strong professionals.

“It is not always about education,” he said. “It is about inspiring them to be the very best they can be.”

His style of praise was to keep it simple. “Well done. I used it all my life. I think it covers everything.”

The alternative - the so-called hairdryer treatment - has become legendary.

“I gave it, without doubt. But that was it finished. Tomorrow I’m planning for the next match.

“What’s the point in killing them the next day? We have to win the next match.”

On leadership, he said: “Personality has to be strong when you are leading people, when you are encouraging them and developing them and inspiring them.”

Sir Alex added: “If you have a group of people and keep changing your mind I don’t think that’s positive. Players and people knew I was the same every day.”

He said he had no problem with players having egos, so long as they worked hard and played as part of a team. He said: “People with egos have to win.”

Sir Alex added: “For instance, Ronaldo. Fantastic human being. But he had an ego. He knew he was good. He used to stand in front of that mirror. Players used to throw boots and socks at him and he loved it.

“He was a perfect example of the Cantonas, the Beckhams, the Giggs. They worked hard. They worked their socks off to be top players. Working hard is a talent. Working hard as a way of life is a bigger talent.”

He also revealed the “horrible” job of sacking players, particularly when they had been long-standing servants and “good soldiers” of the club.

He said: “It is not an easy job to do but I’m paid by Manchester United to keep winning. That’s my job. I’m quite ruthless, I’m not going to deny that. Winning was the important thing.”

Sir Alex revealed that players who left the club as long as ten years ago still asked him for advice. “To have that feedback means you’ve done the job the right way,” he said.

But he would stamp down hard on players who he felt were becoming too big for their boots.

He said: “Success can change people. I have seen it many, many times. If I saw it in the changing room I would give them a reminder.

“I used to say to parents I want your boy to go back the same person. It is important for the mother to recognise her son.”

Sir Alex said he has annual reunions with childhood friends from Govan who help him stay in touch with his roots.

He said: “They come down every year and they hammer me. They are the people who can tell me the truth. Going back to Govan for me is a wake-up call.”

He described his tenure at the club as an “incredible journey”. The value of Manchester United increased from £10m to £2bn under his leadership.

Asked if he would have done anything differently, he said: “I don’t think you should have regrets. Time moves on, you have done what you have done, you have made mistakes, why torture yourself?

“The more important thing is to be positive about the future and learn from your mistakes.”

Sir Alex was keynote speaker at the EY World Entrepreneur of the Year awards.

The overall winner will be announced tonight at a glittering ceremony. Yorkshireman James Lambert, the chairman of R&R Ice Cream, is representing the UK in a field of 60 finalists from 51 countries across the world.