Replacing Fergie

First the shock resignation of Pope Benedict; Then yesterday the announcement of (for some) an even more significant departure of an even bigger spiritual leader. Sir Alex Ferguson.

Early yesterday morning when Sir Alex’s retirement was still just a rumour, one of mySir Alex. Gary Chaplin fellow gym goers commented that he was sure that wasn’t an assignment I would want to be mandated on….summarising it as ”an impossible piece of recruitment” compared with usual C-Level mandated.

Is it?

Sir Alex is cited as being one of the best managers ever, he is without question the most successful English football manager ever – but are the traits of a football manager comparable with a business leader? And does the recruitment of a great one become harder, or easier?

Fergie is unusual. He is a great manager and a great leader. Few people are, but that is part of what makes an exceptional football manager, and arguably a great Business Leader. But has the demands on a football manager increased during Sir Alex’s tenure.  It took him nearly 4 years to win any Silverware (1990 FA Cup), and almost 7 years to win the league. Would a modern top-flight club manager be given as long?

…..and would a high profile FTSE-100 CEO be given as much grace?

Alex-Ferguson. Gary Chaplin Further comparisons between Fergie and a FTSE-100 CEO draw other interesting parallels. Sir Alex has seen his salary from £60,000 per year in 1986, to over £7m now (an 11,000% increase), despite his responsibility being nothing like as broad in the business as a CEO (Man Utd have a more than able CEO in the likewise soon to be departing, David Gill, whose salary is barely 25% of Fergie’s).

During the same 26 years, the average FTSE-100 CEO salary has increased from £150,000 to £850,000 (a 560% increase), their average total remuneration having increased from £220,000 to £4.8m during the same time (a 2,000% increase).

So Sir Alex has done ok, and it must be remembered that not only is he not CEO, his business is nowhere near FTSE-100 status, the average FTSE-100 company turnover being well over £10bn with a market capitalisation of over £15bn – Manchester United’s current year turnover is expected to be only 2-3% of an average FTSE-100 at between £3-400m, with a Market Capitalisation of around £1.9bn.

But, and this is where the biggest difference comes from, Football is wholly emotive, and cannot really be measured in financial terms. Sir Alex’s haul of silverware and league titles puts him, in many peoples estimation, far ahead of any Corporate CEO…..his skills having more in common with an Entrepreneur. And you can’t recruit someone to be an Entrepreneur.

The appointee should have an easier ride than his FTSE-100 counterpart too, without the automatic vilification a large company CEO will get (opposing supporters excluded!) despite his earnings being far higher than the fattest of fat cats.

So how would you go about recruiting Fergie’s replacement?

Put simply, you don’t. Many wildly successful people have been ‘replaced’ and seen theirBW fergie wave successors struggle. Terry Leahy and perhaps less resoundingly, Stuart Rose being two public examples. Taking over from the best of their kind is an impossible task, but that becomes the wrong motivation for recruitment – but a mistake often made.

We start every C-Level mandate with an argument, usually surrounding what is really needed. “We just need another Alex”, is not a viable mandate. You are highly unlikely to find another manager that will deliver 38 titles in the next 26 years. Even finding someone who will deliver 1½ pieces of silver per year is close to an impossible task.

Even mirroring Sir Alex’s style is not the way to recruit. Leaders have the own style, and finding the one with a style that suits best is the challenge.

Fergie’s style has always been controversial.  Kicking a boot at David Beckham, countless touchline bans for over-exuberant/inappropriate behaviour (I can sympathise with that one) and even recently Wayne Rooney has spoken of players’ fear of being subjected to the “hairdryer” treatment, when the manager would bellow in their faces like a “Babyliss Turbo Power 9000”. Not of which are really seen as classic ‘strong leader’ traits.

Fergie HarvardSir Alex recently gave a lecture at Harvard on his own inimitable management style. He may be more known for the boot kicking incident, or for installing tanning booths at the training ground to boost his pampered players’ Vitamin D levels (during Ronaldo’s time?), but his lecture showed an uncompromising, tough management style. He advised future business leaders that he wasn’t afraid of giving the big egos a dressing down, and of how he would use unusual stories to rev up the team for important games.

But if you transfer Fergie’s behavior into other environments, or even look at them with politically-correct, 2013 eyes, there are traits that wouldn’t, or shouldn’t work:

Fergie is known for his uncompromising attitude to his players. Behaviour deemed Sir Alex. Gary Chaplin acceptable 30-40 years ago is no longer so (just ask any former Radio1 DJ….) and Sir Alex’s behavior would be seen as bullying today by many, and would see many a manager end up in court.

Likewise his temper. Getting angry is fine it’s human, but a good leader (and a good manager) learns to control that anger rather than resorting to ‘petulant child’ mode….like refusing to speak to the press after a questionable red card. Fergie has got away with is as his players are at the top and have nowhere to go other than down.

But many of his styles are truly transferable. He has always been known for his ability to praise. As he was quoted as saying, there is nothing better for a human being than hearing the words “Well Done” – a minor point that so many leaders get so wrong.

Likewise his ability to inspire. He is famous for using his passions to enthuse his players – his well reported story the day after he has seen Andrea Bocelli using his passion and the paradigm of the Orchestra being the perfect team.

He also has had a very strong team focus, and uses his respect-based authority to control the egos (and Galácticos) in the team, not letting narcissism exist. Everything is done to the long-term benefit of the team, including leaving key players out of matches.

So what DOES make a good football manager? And is that similar to finding a good business manager, or business leader?

Fergie wave. Sir Alex. Gary Chaplin The best leaders gain the absolute trust of their players, they put you on your toes whenever they set foot in the room, and have a philosophy, vision and passion that is greeted with enthusiasm and delivered with spirit and belief.

Good new managerial appointments have the ability to quickly understand the current environment and its challenges, formulate (and agree) an action plan, introduce, then enforce it. They need mutual respect with their team, but not necessarily mutual affection. Strong leaders need the ability to professionally distance themselves from their wider team.

The process of locating that perfect next appointment is the same regardless of who or what the appointment is, but with football, clubs often miss the important part. It is who they are, what they can do not what they are.

Football managers are often former players, and many players want to become managers (and many managers still want to be players) but it is not a forgone conclusion that great players make great managers. Management is a skill that can be taught to a large degree, but leadership is more of an intrinsic ability. Both are needed to make a great appointment.

The fact that most managers have been players at some point is no surprise, basic understanding of the player level game is vital – as is basic understanding of the industry a CEO operates within, but only those with natural leadership ability are likely to go on to be great managers. Many former Man Utd players have been linked with management; Keane, Robson, even Beckham but it is difficult to see any of them truly being a manager in the same league as Fergie.Sir Alex. Gary Chaplin

Conversely, look at the class defining football managers, most if not all have been professional players, but few were absolute top class.

Recognising the true management candidates, appropriate for that environment, becomes the skill. Chemistry fit is everything – as it is with corporate recruitment.

The process of finding the next Manager should be straight forward, and echo the way in which HeadHunters find the best talent for their clients. That is for the key stakeholders to assess exactly what it is they need, without emotion; desired changes, desired improvements, and desired objectives – all at organisational and operational level.

Once those basic ‘must haves’ are decided, the chemistry fit becomes vital. What person, personal style and personality will fit. This will be all the more tricky, yet vital with CEO David Gill’s summertime replacement by Ed Woodward (current Vice Chairman, not ‘Equalizer’).

It is at that point that for a corporate HeadHunter that the real work, and hard work begins. Finding the people and getting their interest. For Man Utd, that bit will be, surely, easier. Potential candidates are largely already well known and the pull of being the Manager at Old Trafford will surely be a call few will outright reject.

So who?

I’m no pundit, but even I can see the bones of a potential shortlist.
Jose & Sir Alex
Jose Mourinho – seemingly the people’s favourite? Gravitas, charisma and results to take on the United mantle but return ticket to Chelsea and opposition within the ranks may scupper.
David Moyes – the smart money? Miracle worker with a virtually non-existent budget at Everton (& PNE before). Real ability to get a team working as well as play the transfer market like a hustler. He’s also ‘available immediately’. out of contract this summer.Moyes & Fergie
Jurgen Klopp – Really smart money? Huge potential, two Bundesliga titles and further thrust into limelight with Borussia Dortmund’s giant killing to secure their place in the Champions League final; offers longevity and style that could/should suit Old Trafford.

Then the former players? Less likely….but emotion runs high.

Ryan Giggs. Always been a Fergie favourite to step up to management citing him as having the ability to step up and ensure continuity in the same way as Pep Guardiola at Barcelona.
Gary Neville. Moved seamlessly into punditry and coaching under Roy Hodgson. Turned management roles down, but could he spurn the advances from Old Trafford?
Ole Solskjaer. Part of the history books following the 1999 CL Final winning goal, and the only contender currently in a management role. Shown potential at Molde with consecutive Tippaligaen titles. Big gamble, but never underestimate such a fan’s favourite. Having lived close to him for many years, he also has the grounded temperament that could work.

One thing is certain, the appointment will be made in a lot shorter timescale than the Executive Search’s comic average assignment length of 24 weeks….. shorter than even my average retained process time of just over 6 weeks. The process will have been running for a long time already, succession planning has been the talk in and out of Old Trafford for years and as soon as the magic #20 was hit, the odds were on for Sir Alex to leave on the ultimate high, and for the succession announcement to be similarly engineered, as it was with David Gill’s announcement in February.

But much as the recruitment of such a football manager could learn a lot from corporateBye Sir Alex. Gary Chaplin recruitment; so corporate recruitment could learn a lot from Manchester United’s key managerial recruitment process. Plan; don’t just be limited to obvious choices and understand the chemistry fit of the available options.

Post Script – David Moyes, Manager, Manchester United.

So with the metaphorical white smoke rising from Old Trafford, David Moyes has indeed got the nod. No real surprise for football fans, and no surprise from a more technical search perspective.
Moyes Fergie Gary Chaplin
Sir Alex, who lest we forget is not leaving, but just moving ‘upstairs’, has had a huge say in his successor and has made it no secret that he sees a lot of himself in Moyes – drive, character, team focus and raw determination.

Moyes is also one to promote and develop young players giving them the same expectation exceeding opportunity that perhaps Moyes himself is getting in this appointment.

Some have commented that the appointment too much of a mild evolution? And that Fergie will still (be allowed to) have too much input with a mild-mannered Manager – contrasting with a Mourinho style that would rebuff interference.

Promoted execs not letting go is a huge risk to recruitment processes and risk jeopardising both appointments, and the success of appointees….

….however, an even greater risk is a business without the need for dramatic change, employing a change agent who in turn seeks to stamp authority. If it isn’t broken, don’t try and fix. That must be the mantra at Old Trafford.

DV967524Crucially, Moyes will bring the depth of team focus and refusal to accept prima-donnas and general narcissism that Sir Alex has become so famed for. With Mourinho, one could argue that he brings greater narcissistic behaviour then the best of players (his truncated comments to ITV Sport after his teams defeat in the CL Semi-final confirming his true personality?).

…..That said, Mourinho’s energy and charisma would have been an interesting sight on the Old Trafford touchline (and Mrs Chaplin (along with 1,000s of other wives) is certainly lamenting the news that he will not become a neighbour…!)

Moyes is most definitely team first. And for any team (and any business/organisation running as well as ManUtd), that becomes a powerful leadership position.

The King is dead. Long live the King.
Daves Moyes Manchester United Gary Chaplin

7 Comments on “Replacing Fergie”

  1. Lesson in management or lesson in buying success?
    Fergie is a good manager but he’s had comically deep pockets to buy titles.

    • Fergie has had a big budget but the club has been self funding for most of its heyday. They’ve not had middle eastern wealth buying titles they’ve played well, made money, spent well, invested well. Smart management.

  2. Really good blog, big challenge succeeding such a successful man. My money was on Mourino but the smart money as you say seems to be on Moyes.

  3. Really enjoyed reading this Gary, I guess it raises another issue around succession? If a business of this size didn’t have an internal candidate “groomed” for the role it would be slaughtered for its lack of planning. The fact that none of the “management team” have been mentioned as a potential successor is surprising given the culture of success that the organisation has built over the past 3 decades.

    The other point that the media has missed in the frenzy of the past 24 hours is that SAF is “moving upstairs” and not leaving the organisation. We have all seen examples in business where this has worked and also many where it hasn’t! I think the biggest challenge for his successor will be how he can operate in the shadow of the man who built the organisation into the high performance organisation it now is.

    Its actually for this reason I think the “anointed” will be Moyes. I’m not sure how any organisation could operate with 2 personalities such as Mourinho and Ferguson in its structure!

  4. I agree Simon, interesting points raised from you both. Gary I have enjoyed your take on the situation. As a recruiter myself I tend to agree with your outloook.

    For me I’m disappointed not to see an internal promotion for say.. Mike Phelan. My husband who has supported the team from a very young age tells me that in a normal business this might be the case however not for a football club. He doesn’t believe that Mike Phelan is strong enough or has proved himself. He has no experience operating at this level however I believe people should be given the opportunity to step up to the plate. Surely he has seen the good and bad methods Sir Alex has used so can move forward. My husband tells me that this route would be too risky.

    On another note, will Sir Alex ever let go? Yes he’s stepping away from the role however as he is ‘moving upstairs’ will the new manager ever be able to put his own stamp on the running of the club? Therefore would it be the wrong decision to promote internally as they are likely to be led rather than lead.

    Surely Moyes is a stronger candidate than say Mourinho? Moyes is similar in his attitude although doesn’t have the experience in Europe. I believe he has performed well in the ‘job’ he has been given. In my opinion appointing Mourinho would be a quick fix and clearly would ruffle some feathers which in this situation would be a risky move.


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