Taking the helm at Man U at about the same time as Microsoft went public and IBM released their first twelve-pound ‘convertible’ laptop, the Sir Alex Ferguson timeline covers far more than fifteen hundred matches. Yes, too many books, movies and metaphors have applied sports to business and the boardroom but Sir Alex, in Football, over time is more akin to management in the computer industry than you might realise.
The BBC wrote that “his initial victories were hard won but that the domination to follow was unexpected” which sounds a bit like the PC industry whose history and evolution follow similar time and story lines, with the key word for both being ‘evolution’.
Unlike most other industries which by circumstance and necessity do and have changed, somewhat, over time (often supported by technology), the computer industry, which is rapidly becoming the cloud industry, as driven by Moore’s law consists of sets of dynamic ‘living’ product ranges in a general state of flux… things that need care and feeding, maintenance and improvement, and support from a businesses led with a combination of pragmatic vision and astute business sense. .. and flexibility.
Skipping over the fashion and hairstyle offenses – on-pitch and off – that the Manchester United bastion has seen and instead ponder the massive evolution of change that has happened around him while at the helm. The breadth of change from player salaries to their attitudes is a result of communications breaking barriers and extending borders (just like IT in general and Cloud specifically) through to the fans and the media (the football version of Cloud clients, consumers and analysts). We could stretch the analogies further but I think the point is made.
The opening of telecommunications channels and the pervasive use and availability of broadcasting kit moved the media approach and coverage to a global stage, necessitating amongst other things a re-adjustment of the Premiership business model and a re-prioritisation of the revenue streams from tickets to t-shirts and advertising with a growing hands-on focus directly on the fan base.
While of course he didn’t run the day to day business of the club, at a minimum in IT industry terms you’d have to consider Sir Alex a board-seated CTO of the MU machine. The changes he has helped managed the Club through are as vast as the changes from silent film to radio to television to satellite viewing, from mainframes to minis to micros to handhelds, or from re-seller to integrator to service provider to cloud provider, and everything else in between (which, as the astute amongst you might have noticed, in our industry has also created the need for a re-adjustment to business models, a different way of looking at revenues and a different focus and approach to customers).
Alex Ferguson was open to change: any good Manager (football or otherwise) needs a defence mechanism and the flexibility to deal with and exploit that which is happening around you is near the top of the list. And change is of course what the IT industry – and Cloud – is all about, both changing itself and enabling change pretty much everywhere else. You are after all still selling and providing computer “stuff” but the pitch, the rules, the players, the press and the fans all only bear the tiniest of resemblance to what came before.
(In any case, has anyone else noticed that the Football v Religion question has been answered from a social media perspective: the announcement of the new Pope garnered about five times as many tweets in the first round of reactions to Sir Alex stepping down).