Sir Alex Ferguson’s legacy for CIOs

Last updated: 21 March 2014

Following the news last week that one of the longest-serving managers of a highly successful soccer club in the UK, well-known around the world, is set to retire at the end of the English Premier League season, tributes and tears are pouring forth. That’s right; Sir Alex Ferguson is stepping down from managing Manchester United Football Club.

Admired and feared alike, the Scotsman has overseen many successes for the soccer club over the past 27 years, even influencing the New York Stock Exchange where the club is listed.

To celebrate a quarter of a century of management, The Economist outlined the secrets behind Sir Alex’s success, and I believe these management styles should be considered by CIOs globally as there is much to apply in the enterprise world.

Firstly, he’s adaptable. How else could he have remained in power for over 25 years without moving with the times? He sees when players need to be mixed up, bringing the best out of players, especially those with complex personalities (Eric Cantona, Roy Keane…), and continually switches the formation around to adjust tactics to ensure goals are scored and matches won.

The same applies to CIOs grappling with the modern world and emergence of mobile, social, cloud and analytics, shaking up the old and requiring new security measures to ensure enterprise information is accessible but secure. CIOs need to move swiftly to implement new technologies to remain ahead of the competition, but while considering the risks these may present. Our own research among CIOs globally showed that US CIOs are especially cautious when it comes to enterprise security. The more they can embrace change, with adequate measures in place, the better-placed they will be to ‘win’.

Secondly, Sir Alex was renowned for his temper, instilling fear but also admiration among his players, critics and fans. While I wouldn’t endorse bad moods in CIOs, playing the role of technology enabler can only work if there is discipline behind it. Otherwise, how can CIOs enforce security measures among employees? Without communicating the risk of losing a match (suffering a data breach), players and employees cannot understand the need to play ball…

Finally, the long-serving football manager also emphasized the importance of building winning teams, by rewarding hard-working players with loyalty (Ryan Giggs is 40 in November). CIOs should do the same with their employees, rewarding those who work to meet security measures and avoid endangering the enterprise’s security with reckless behavior.

Many lessons can be learned from sporting heroes and this is but one example. Adaptability, discipline and loyalty are three key attributes that CIOs (and other business leaders) can embrace. How fitting, also, that Sir Alex’s retirement should be announced on Twitter, demonstrating once again just how agile and modern he is in embracing this brave new world. Here’s hoping CIOs can learn from his ways.

(*melis /

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