Alex Ferguson could turn off the hair dryer

The commentators are buzzing about Ferguson’s new autobiography.  Of course most of the comments are about hair dryer treatment, rifts and acrimony.  Henry Winter, the Telegraph’s football correspondent says “The main victim of Sir Alex Ferguson’s new book is Roy Keane, who receives far more than the hairdryer treatment.  He gets savaged.”

In addition the David Beckham incident is detailed of course.  When Beckham reacted badly to criticism Ferguson writes : “As usual, with David at that time, he was dismissive ..
He was around 12 feet from me. David swore. I moved towards him, and as I approached I kicked a boot. It hit him right above the eye. He rose to have a go at me and the players stopped him. ‘Sit down,’ I said. ‘You’ve let your team down. You can argue as much as you like.’  I called him in the next day to go through the video and he still would not accept his mistake.  The next day, the story was in the press. It was in those days that I told the board David had to go.”
This black and white treatment is natural from an individual who was schooled in management in the Scottish second division in the eighties.  Of course Ferguson could be hard line with those players.  They were on about thirty quid a week and couldn’t afford to walk out or have tantrums.  Yet as Manchester United became more and more successful Ferguson was managing players earning millions.  Under the scrutiny of the media.  Of course he had more to him and his management style than the hair dryer.
I believe one essential  ingredient to his successful management style was authenticity.  Ferguson features in my book “Tell the Truth, honesty is your most powerful marketing tool.”  We describe the 2010 Rooney shock news when the story broke that he was intending to leave United, and not just for any team but for Manchester City.  The media was aflame and Rooney received death threats from fans.  Ferguson’s reaction was sterling.  He spoke so authentically to the public and not only defused the situation but turned it to his advantage in a “truth turning point” moment.  In a world where powerful players are surrounded by toadies and yes men and women imagine the advantage that speaking authentically would deliver.
You can compare Ferguson’s old style of management, of dealing with less powerful players in the last century, with marketing to consumers in a broad sense.  In the old days brands could get away with treating consumers as if all the power was on their side, with impatience, even with contempt.  These days when the power has shifted into the hands and pockets of the consumer, when the consumer has the ability to shop around for prices and information at the touch of a few clicks on their tablet or smart phone, brands need to speak authentically.  This is where long term competitive advantage lies.




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