Sir Alex Ferguson and the Jack Welch approach

Posted by Musa Okwonga

Alex Ferguson
PA PhotosSir Alex Ferguson has pledged United's backing

Sir Alex Ferguson is arguably the greatest football manager of all time. However, it is possibly a comparison with a formidable businessman - and not with, say, Liverpool's Bob Paisley or Holland's Rinus Michels - that best explains his legend. Jack Welch, who was the Chairman and CEO of General Electric between 1981 and 2001, would probably be happy to recognise the Manchester United boss as a kindred spirit. They are famous for their astonishingly long tenure at the helm of demanding institutions - Ferguson has been in charge at Old Trafford for over a quarter of a century - and, unsurprisingly, they share a similar outlook.

"The odds were against me", wrote Welch in his autobiography Jack: Straight From The Gut. "I was brutally honest and outspoken. I was impatient, and to many, abrasive." So far, so Sir Alex Ferguson. Yet it is when Welch writes of his decision-making process that the drawing of parallels seems most apt. "A frequent complaint even in my final days as CEO is that we weren't fast enough. I learned in a hundred ways that I rarely regretted acting but often regretted not acting fast enough. I could scarcely remember a time when I said, "I wish I'd taken six more months to study something before making a decision... when I retired, one of my greatest regrets was that I didn't act fast enough on many occasions."

A fortnight ago, when Manchester United were due to play Southampton, Sir Alex Ferguson dropped his first-choice goalkeeper David De Gea, replacing the Spaniard with Anders Lindergaard. His rationale was that De Gea had made a mistake in a 3-2 home victory over Fulham, and could not be relied on in the difficult away fixture. Ferguson is traditionally someone who defends his players in public, and so this move by him was seen as unusually ruthless: and somewhat rash, as Lindegaard would go on to give an uncertain performance in a somewhat fortunate 3-2 win.

What is remarkable about Ferguson's choice, though, is not its severity, or even its correctness, but its speed: it is the latter by which the Scotsman may well have judged its success. Ferguson has been under considerable pressure throughout his career, most recently to criticise the Glazer family for the debt that they have added to the club's books, and to purchase reinforcements for the team's defensive midfield positions: the stubbornness with which he has held these contrary positions is readily noted. But we should also note his liking for "the Welch approach": that a leader who does not act, whether wrong or right, is not a leader, and a leader who acts in haste is the best leader of all.

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