Sir Alex Ferguson has conquered football. Next, the world of finance?

To have had such longevity and success requires a remarkable range of skills

Related Topics

So, I am myself only eight days into my own retirement from “just” 18 years at Goldman Sachs and here is Sir Alex Ferguson, copying me! Contrary to some of the rumours I heard on Wednesday, we do not have any pre-planned scheme of doing something together, although if he thinks of an idea, I will be all ears. During Sir Alex’s 26-year reign, I have had the pleasure of getting to know him somewhat and seen many angles of his extraordinary talents.

It is almost impossible to think of a comparable example to the success he has achieved. He joined United at a time when the club had considered selling itself for almost a pittance and has been at the core of turning it into the global mega-brand that it has become today.

He might not have achieved the same European success as Liverpool or of course, powerhouses such as Real Madrid, but is there a bigger football name in the world than United? I travel the world extensively, and as soon as I breathe that I am from Manchester, the words United, and Alex Ferguson soon follow. And in terms of business, the brand has become perhaps the best “BRICs” content in the world today, or at least with Sir Alex at the helm, it is.

United’s domination of the Premier League since 1993 under Sir Alex’s leadership is staggering. He has essentially done it with four very different and revamped teams, the 1993-96 class, the 99-2003 vintage, the 2006-2008 team, and of course, the most recent years. Not only has he knocked Liverpool off their perch, but he has out-battled Arsenal (remember the late 1990s when they were the only two teams in the mix), and of course, dealt with the separate, albeit similar challenges of Chelsea and Manchester City.

He has done all of this while maintaining at his training ground “home” a family atmosphere where everyone not only calls Sir Alex the boss, but sees him as part of the core passion that is what really gets under the skin of the fans. And then he has used that to take on all comers over at the huge stadium and commercial operation that modern Manchester United has become.

For an individual to have had the longevity and success of Sir Alex at one club during the staggering changes witnessed since 1986 can only be possible with a remarkable range of skills. To have dealt with an Eric Cantona, a Roy Keane, a David Beckham, a Cristiano Ronaldo, and for most of these icons and others to regard Sir Alex with such huge regard is just a tiny sign of the powers he has.

His 26 years have traversed many forms of ownership and individuals , from Martin Edwards’ reign, the first days of the plc, the period of the Irish tycoons taking a huge stake, to, of course, his remarkably skilful navigation of the current controversial ownership period.  I hope they realise just how lucky they have been, and without Sir Alex having been there, I suspect their ownership would have been more troublesome and even more unpopular.

What is the special secret of Sir Alex? I would guess it is essentially threefold.

Firstly, I think his interest in people and their diversity is part of what makes his awareness of people’s characters so strong.

Secondly, he reminds me of some of the most successful traders and investors I have met. He is not scared of taking risks and getting things wrong, because he knows that, without taking risks, you can’t improve.

And third, with this, he has this admirable ability – which at times I am sure is tough to be on the wrong end of – of telling people when it is time to move on. I have often joked for years that once he finally hung up his boots, economic policymaking could use some of these skills. Indeed, I suggested to Mark Carney, the incoming Bank of England governor, when I ran into him recently that he should probably have lunch with Sir Alex and learn how to deal with such high expectations.

Maybe Mark could invite him to join the Bank’s monetary policy committee. Of course, it wouldn’t be enough. Perhaps he could be the next head of the IMF.

Jim O’Neill is the former chairman of Goldman Sachs Asset Management and a former Manchester United director

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Area Sales Manager - Midlands

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer - 3-4 Month Fixed Contract - £30-£35k pro rata

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a 3-4 month pro rata fi...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive - OTE £26,000+

£16000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Telesales Executive is requir...

Recruitment Genius: Area Sales Manager

£25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join ...

Day In a Page

Read Next

Don’t pity me for eating alone, just give me a better table

Rosie Millard
Aerial view of planned third runway at Heathrow  

Heathrow expansion: This final 'conclusion' has simply fanned the airport flames

Chris Blackhurst
Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most
Katy Perry prevented from buying California convent for $14.5m after nuns sell to local businesswoman instead

No grace of God for Katy Perry as sisters act to stop her buying convent

Archdiocese sues nuns who turned down star’s $14.5m because they don’t approve of her
Ajmer: The ancient Indian metropolis chosen to be a 'smart city' where residents would just be happy to have power and running water

Residents just want water and power in a city chosen to be a ‘smart’ metropolis

The Indian Government has launched an ambitious plan to transform 100 of its crumbling cities
Michael Fassbender in 'Macbeth': The Scottish play on film, from Welles to Cheggers

Something wicked?

Films of Macbeth don’t always end well - just ask Orson Welles... and Keith Chegwin
10 best sun creams for body

10 best sun creams for body

Make sure you’re protected from head to toe in the heatwave
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon files

Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games
Women's World Cup 2015: How England's semi-final success could do wonders for both sexes

There is more than a shiny trophy to be won by England’s World Cup women

The success of the decidedly non-famous females wearing the Three Lions could do wonders for a ‘man’s game’ riddled with cynicism and greed
How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map