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The Chosen One – Succession Planning in Manchester and Munich (Part 1)

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Succession planning is never easy – and the ultra-competitive world of football amplifies the challenges on the front pages of the global media. In a world where success lasts only a week, and where every minute decision is dissected and analysed by thousands of fervent armchair critics, there is an immense pressure on Club Boards to find the right man for the job.

Two major coaching changes – in Manchester and Munich – illustrated how tough it can be to plan for a successor. Both cases involved highly experienced, championship-winning coaches from clubs that have dominated their respective national leagues for over two decades. Both clubs have a rich tradition and loyalty to their star players, both have a global fan base and a deep-seated belief that their team is simply the best in the world.

Both put a plan in place to transition to a new coach for the start of the 2013-14 season. But there the similarities end. And the fortunes of the two clubs under new management have depicted opposing sides of the coin.

Under New Management – Manchester

In Manchester one of the world’s best-ever football club managers announced his retirement two weeks before the end of the 2012-13 English Premier League season. His carefully chosen successor was announced a day later, lifted a trophy (the Community Shield) in his first competitive match at the new club, raced to the top of the premiership with a 4-1 away win in the opening fixture of the 2013-14 season – and has seen things going downhill ever since.

The defending English champions are struggling in the league, have been eliminated from both domestic cup competitions, and are on the verge of an early exit from the Champions League. The manner in which they capitulated to the Greek minnows, Olympiacos, raise serious questions about morale and attitude among players, and the ability of new manager David Moyes to deliver at this level.

Manchester United faces the very real prospect of failing to qualify for European competition for the first time since English clubs were readmitted to European competition in 1990. Sections of the media are already baying for his blood, and the financial losses coupled to not playing European competition could well be enough to make club owners, the Glazers, reconsider the 6-year contract they handed Moyes in July 2013.

Under New Management – Munich

By contrast, Manchester United’s German equivalents, Bayern Munich, brought Jupp Heynckes’ 26-year managerial career to an end by compelling him to retire at the end of the 2012-13 season. Ironically, it was the Club’s most successful season ever, but he was sacrificed to make way for Pep Guardiola, a man who was at that point on a stress break caused by the pressures of managing his previous club, Barcelona.

The Bavarians’ new coach struggled in his early matches. Their first competitive match resulted in a 2-4 defeat against Borussia Dortmund in the German Super Cup, and the next few matches produced unconvincing wins and a shock draw to Freiburg, dropping the Germans into third spot in the Bundesliga.

But from that inauspicious start things snapped into place and subsequent results have been devastating. In the first five months under Guardiola the Bavarian club won the UEFA Super Cup (against Chelsea, now managed by Jose Mourinho, who had been considered by many as a favourite to take over at United) and the FIFA World Club Cup. They opened a 10 point lead at the half-way stage of the German Bundesliga, and are once again setting records for unbeaten runs, consecutive wins in the Champions League, and so on. In short, under new management they have lifted their already incredible form to a higher level.

Why the different results? And what can the business world learn from what happens on and around the sports field as far as succession planning is concerned?

Manchester United’s Succession Plan

Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement had been in the pipeline a long time. The football world had been speculating about the when and who ever since Ferguson changed his mind about retiring in 2002 (see “The Fergie Legacy”).

United had over a decade to plan for a successor. In that time many assistant managers were groomed and developed – and then moved on to the top job in other clubs. Yet the suddenness of the announcement caught many by surprise.

Ferguson admits that he had decided in December 2012 to retire at the end of the season, but he did not inform United’s owners until he was contractually obligated to do so (in March 2013). Having been burnt by the experience of 2001-02, he and the Board decided not to announce the retirement until days before United’s final home game of the 2012-13 season. By that stage David Moyes had been offered a 6-year contract, and was unveiled as the new Manchester United manager the day after Ferguson’s announcement shocked the world.

The time is right,” he told The Guardian. “It was important to me to leave an organisation in the strongest possible shape and I believe I have done so. The quality of this league winning squad, and the balance of ages within it, bodes well for continued success at the highest level whilst the structure of the youth set-up will ensure that the long-term future of the club remains a bright one.”

Moyes was somewhat of a surprise choice. He did not have the pedigree of some other candidates, particularly as far as European experience and a record of trophies was concerned. Many pundits had speculated that José ‘The Special One’ Mourinho, the former manager at Chelsea, Internazionale and Real Madrid, would be the next boss at Old Trafford. He had expressed a keen interest before and wanted to return to England (in fact, only days after Moyes’ appointment, Mourinho returned to Chelsea, where he has helped them mount a strong challenge for the 2013-14 English premiership).

Ferguson thought highly of Mourinho’s managerial abilities, but both Ferguson and the Glazer family preferred the solid work ethic and loyalty of the dour Scottish manager over the flamboyant and sometimes controversial Portuguese manager. “I knew his family background,” Ferguson wrote in his 2013 autobiography. “…They have a good family feel about them. I’m not saying that’s a reason to hire someone but you like to see good foundations in someone appointed to such high office.”

Moyes had demonstrated his character at Preston North End, where he finished his playing career and began his managerial career, first as coach, assistant manager and then manager from 1998. He helped the club clinch the Second Division title (2000) before joining Everton in 2002.

Ferguson was particularly impressed by what Moyes had accomplished in his eleven years at Everton despite the limited resources at his disposal. Given the groundwork he had laid and the vast resources available at United, Ferguson believed Moyes had the character to take Manchester United into the future.

Even so, he warned the Old Trafford faithful that it would not be easy. Addressing the fans for the last time, he called on them (and the United Board) to give Moyes the same support he had received: “I’d also like to remind you that we’ve had bad times here. The club stood by me. All my staff stood by me. The players stood by me. So your job now is to stand by our new manager. That is important.”

He was not referring only to the 3½ years it took for him to win his first trophy with the Red Devils. Even after the much vaunted Treble of 1999, the great Scot’s team finished trophyless several times (2001-02, 2004-05 and 2011-12 to be precise), and sections of the media had suggested more than once that he had passed his prime and should be axed.

But Ferguson had a track record and he retained the confidence of the Board. He was always able to bounce back. Moyes has a record of stability but not success. Will it be enough, or will the United Board be tempted to ditch the plan (and the man) as so many other clubs tend to do?

It is noteworthy that during Ferguson’s 26-year tenure at Manchester United, their German rivals Bayern Munich changed managers a staggering 17 times, for a return of 38 major trophies.

In the next installment we consider the succession plan that brought Guardiola to Bayern Munich, and the lessons we can learn from the transition.

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“Don’t Call Me Boss” – The Ferguson Legacy (Part 4 on Sir Alex Ferguson)

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“Don’t call me Boss,” Sir Alex Ferguson told his stunned players when he announced his retirement on 8 May 2013. “After I’ve gone and we bump into each other, I don’t want to hear you call me Boss ever again. Call me anything but that. Call me whatever you’ve called me behind my back for years — but just not Boss. You’ll have a new boss by then and he’s the only one you should call that.”

A simple message, yet one which characterises his leadership philosophy and, he hopes, the legacy he leaves behind: no single person is greater than the club.

The Retirement Question

“The decision has been taken. I’m going to leave the club.” In May 2001 Ferguson warned the football world that he would be retiring from Manchester United and football at the end of the 2001-02 season.

The club had just won a third consecutive league title and a seventh in nine years, but his announcement brought with it a miserable campaign. The club finished without a trophy for the first time in four years, and outside the top two for the first time in a decade. By February 2002 he had withdrawn his retirement plans, and signed on for at least another three years. He subsequently admitted that the pre-announcement of his retirement had resulted in a negative effect on the players and on his ability to impose discipline.

Consequently, his second retirement was handled very differently. Although he had made the decision in December, following the death of his wife’s sister, he kept it quiet, allowing his players to focus on their pursuit of another treble.

They fell short with crushing quarter-final defeats in both FA Cup and Champions League, leaving Ferguson uncharacteristically distraught and unable to face the post-match press conference. The real reason for his anguish only emerged after United had convincingly clinched a 20th league title: days later he announced his retirement, leaving fans with only two matches to absorb the news and say their farewells.

The question of his eventual retirement had been an ever-present issue since 2002. While on tour in Houston, Texas, in July 2010 Ferguson insisted he wanted to leave his successor a vibrant, thriving young set of players, imbued with the realistic self-belief and confidence to continue winning well beyond his own tenure at the helm. He did not want a repeat of the situation he inherited in 1986 when he had to completely rebuild an ageing, fragmented squad. He was also mindful of the impact of Sir Matt Busby’s departure in 1970, which saw United slump into the English Second Division for a season.

“What you have to do is maintain the success of the club and make sure that, no matter when I quit, the club is always in good hands,” he said. “I also have the opportunity of working with very good footballers, with good desire and a good purpose about themselves. We don’t build a footballer just in terms of ability, we try to build their character to make them better human beings and to understand their responsibilities,” he added.

Youth, renewal and sustainability have been hallmarks of Ferguson’s 39-year, 2,155 match career as a manager, first at East Stirlingshire, followed by St Mirren, Aberdeen, Scotland and finally Manchester United.

“You Can’t Win Anything in Football with Kids”

From the start of his managerial career, Ferguson has placed emphasis on developing young talent. As already outlined in Part 1 of this series, Ferguson rejuvenated the underachieving St Mirren and Aberdeen clubs in Scotland before joining United in 1986.

Before he achieved United’s first league championship in 26 years, the youth team reached the FA Youth Cup final in successive seasons, evoking memories of the famed ‘Busby Babes’ four decades earlier. Those wins heralded the ‘Class of 92’, a group of highly talented youngsters like Paul Scholes, Gary Neville, David Beckham and Nicky Butt, who would go on to become household names and a core part of team over the next decade and more.

However, Ferguson’s strong commitment to a youth policy was often questioned, notably at the start of the 1995-96 season. Following the league success of 1992-93 and the double in 1993-94, United’s trophy cabinet was bare in 1994-95 and Ferguson realised he would need to rebuild the squad. Established players like Paul Ince, Mark Hughes and Andrei Kanchelskis were sold, but rather than investing in the transfer market Ferguson turned to the Youth Academy, promoting several players to the first team squad.

They lost the opening match of the season, prompting football theorist and former Liverpool legend Alan Hansen to heap scorn on Ferguson’s management approach. “You can’t win anything in football with kids,” he famously proclaimed. By December 1995 Hansen’s warning seemed to have merit: the Red Devils trailed leaders Newcastle United by 10 points.

As was the case in early 1990, when success in the FA Cup saved his career, Ferguson did not panic, but inspired his team to stay focused on the goal. Two crucial wins over the leaders contributed to United winning the Cup and League double that season, and witnessed the birth of three new threats:

  • Fergie’s Fledglings, who would go on to dominate English football for the remainder of the decade,
  • Ferguson’s knack of unsettling the opposition with his mind games, and
  • His ability to continually reinvent and reinvigorate his team to become one of the most consistent club sides, across generations of players.

Finding (Young) Talent Around the Globe

Ferguson realised early on that the changing nature of the global game means it is unlikely that future winning squads will come from the same geographic region. He invested significantly in adapting the club’s youth policy and international scouting teams to identify potential talent at all levels of the game.

Reflecting on the generation of youngsters breaking into the United first team since 2010 Ferguson acknowledges that not many are home-grown. “The boys we have at the moment, we bought them but our judgment has been good in terms of scouting them. And we have used different departments to do the scouting. The academy scouting department got us the Da Silvas [Rafael and Fábio]. Our mid-academy, youth scouting got us Javier Hernández. They alerted us to Hernández and then we followed up with our senior scout – Jim Lawlor – who went to Mexico for three weeks before we made the call on him. With the full-time scouting department, the first-team scouting, bringing in Anderson and Nani was done at that level.”

Across the decades, Ferguson has continued to reinvent his team, making many astute investments to bring both experienced and promising players to United, often at bargain prices. Only occasionally did he bring in expensive players at the peak or tail-end of their careers, and then only to plug specific gaps in his squad.

Not all the acquisitions were successful and several players were quickly sold again.

But the balance sheet finished strongly on Ferguson’s side, largely due to his ability to identify emerging talent. Buying young unproven players is a risk, but Ferguson was always adamant: “We invest in the future!”

Bobby Charlton, a club director and legendary player under Busby, agreed. “Youngsters want to come here because they know that the manager’s philosophy is that if they are good enough then they will get a game irrespective of age,” he said.

So it should be no surprise the 2012-13 title-winning squad is the third youngest in the English Premier League. It included six players that came through United’s youth ranks, including the ever-green Ryan Giggs (39) and Paul Scholes (38, now retired).

And days after clinching the top prize in England, one of the Manchester United junior teams clinched the U21 premiership in typical United fashion – coming back from a 2-0 deficit to win the final by 3-2.

Ferguson is handing his successor a strong core of players with the potential to continue challenging for trophies well into the future.

“No One is Bigger than the Club”

Another recurring theme in Ferguson’s management has been his view that no player is bigger than the club. His ‘my way or the highway’ approach to dealing with players and the pressure of this management tactic caused the departure of many notable players, Gordon Strachan, Paul McGrath, Paul Ince, Jaap Stam, Dwight Yorke, David Beckham, Ruud van Nistelrooy, Roy Keane and Gabriel Heinze.

That philosophy was also evident in the choice of Ferguson’s successor, in which Sir Alex is believed to have played a major role.

While the footballing world was still trying to get to grips with the news of his retirement, his own focus had already moved on. Even when winning titles, he was constantly looking forward to the next match, another season and another challenge. This time it was the challenge of replacing himself!

The 2013 off-season has already witnessed a number of high profile managers changing clubs. The likes of Barcelona’s Pep Guardiola (to Bayern Munich) and Real Madrid’s José ‘The Special One’ Mourinho (back to Chelsea) were considered, along with other big names and several of Ferguson’s former players who had since gone into management themselves.

But just as Ferguson believed no player to be bigger than the club, he also did not want a manager who would consider himself as such. Sir Alex wanted someone who shared his values of passion and loyalty, and convinced United’s Board to approach David Moyes, a somewhat dour, disciplinarian Scot who had taken over a relegation-threatened Everton in 2002 and succeeded in maintaining their proud record of having England’s longest run in top flight football.

Moyes had built up a strong core of players, who perhaps overachieved slightly within the constraints of Everton’s financial structures. But the stability he achieved was counter-balanced by a lack of genuine success, with a poor away record against top teams, a mediocre record in European competition and no silverware in any of the 11 season he was in charge.

The Post-Ferguson Era

“The club will now witness the dawn of a new era and sustaining success at Old Trafford will be a really hard job for David Moyes,” warns former Liverpool defender and football pundit Alan Hansen (yes, the same man who believed Ferguson could win nothing with kids).

Like Ferguson, United fans hope he will be proved wrong again.

Addressing the Old Trafford faithful on the occasion of his last home match, only four days after announcing his retirement, Sir Alex exhorted the capacity crowd to stand by Moyes: “I’d also like to remind you that when we had bad times here, the club stood by me, all my staff stood by me, the players stood by me. Your job now is to stand by our new manager. That is important.”

Senior players including Golden Boot winner Robin van Persie and Michael Carrick have echoed Ferguson’s sentiments and are looking forward to new challenges. And at the final match of the season, a typically thrilling 5-5 draw away to West Bromwich Albion – a perfect bookend to the 3-3 draw between St Mirren and Forfar that marked the real start of his managerial career in 1974 – the travelling supporters expressed their sentiments when they sang: “Come on David Moyes, play like Fergie’s boys”.

Quite fitting that only days after Sir Alex Ferguson’s last match with the senior team, the next generation of players clinched the U21 title in typical United come-from-behind style. That’s the spirit Ferguson brought to Manchester United in 1986.

It is the legacy he hopes to leave behind.

This is the final part of a 4-part series on the leadership of one of the most influential sport managers of all time.The first article considered Sir Alex Ferguson’s character, and specifically his sense of loyalty, as the foundation on which his success is built (the “ethos” or character component of influence). The second focused on his ability to motivate and inspire his players and staff (the “pathos”), while the third addressed the “logos” – the words and reasoning of the man, and the outcomes he has achieved.

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Building Influence Equity

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Successful leaders use influence to develop people, build teams and deliver outcomes. As with financial equity, the more influence leaders have, the greater their ability to achieve their objectives and potential. But influence is fragile; it cannot be forced and it can easily dissipate.

The workshop outlines the three foundations of sustainable influence and the interrelationships between them. It provides participants with an opportunity to reflect on their own influence currencies, and identify potential barriers they need to overcome in develop their influencing skills.

The workshop also includes individualised DiSC profiles for each participant (see a Sample Report on the DiSC page). The DiSC® Model of Behaviour, and helps attendees increase their personal effectiveness in:

  • Managing their own behaviour and approach to life
  • Relating with colleagues, team members, family and friends, and clients
  • Managing and influencing others (upwards, sideways and downwards)

Influence is not earned overnight, and nor is the skill to become influential. A key component of this seminar is the ongoing coaching and assignments which participants undertake, in order to ensure that the skills become part of their lifestyle.

Learning Objectives

On successful completion of this workshop, participants will:

  • Understand the three core pillars of influence
  • Identify common mistakes made by would-be influencers and assess strategies to address specific influence barriers
  • Understand their behavioural tendencies and how this affects their ability to influence others
  • Review their influence currencies and preferred decision-making style
  • Respect, appreciate, understand, and value individual behavioural differences
  • Enhance strategies for working together to increase productivity
  • Increase their effectiveness by improving their relationships with others
  • Practice techniques to adapt their communication styles to suit the preferences of their listeners
  • Develop an action plan to build their influence equity

Target Audience

This seminar is aimed at leaders who wish to extend their effectiveness in their workplace and beyond.

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