Article | Harvard Business Review | October 2013

Ferguson's Formula

by Anita Elberse and Sir Alex Ferguson

Abstract

When Alex Ferguson took over as manager of the English football team Manchester United, the club was in dire straits: It hadn't won a league title in nearly 20 years and faced a very real threat of being relegated to a lower division. In 26 seasons under Ferguson, United won 38 domestic and international trophies—giving him nearly twice as many as any other English club manager—and became one of the valuable franchises in sports. In 2012, during Ferguson's final season before retiring, Harvard Business School professor Anita Elberse had the unique opportunity to observe Ferguson's management style in a series of visits and in-depth interviews. In this collaborative explication, she details eight parts of Ferguson's "formula" as she observed them and gives the manager his say. The lessons described range from the necessity of maintaining control over high-performing team members to the importance of observation and the inevitability of change. The approach that brought Ferguson's team such success and staying power is applicable well beyond football—to business and to life.

Keywords: Strategy; Business or Company Management; Management Style; Success; Sports; Sports Industry; England;

Citation:

Elberse, Anita, and Sir Alex Ferguson. "Ferguson's Formula." Harvard Business Review 91, no. 10 (October 2013): 116–125.