Culture matters, in business and in sport. The set of principles which guide the employees, managers and shareholders of a business are what produces results and culture plays a similar role at soccer clubs. Both clubs and corporations are organizations focused on accomplishing a set of goals, it follows that there are parallels in organizational style. Read on for the long lost corporate twins of your favorite clubs.
So which company is paired with Manchester United, the greatest English club of the past twenty years? Only one headed by a visionary leader and which is the undisputed king of its industry will do and it must be Apple.
As a child is to a parent, Apple is to Jobs. It was his creation and his company to save when it went astray. Thinking of Apple apart from Jobs is to ignore that his psychological DNA is at its core of its structure. Likewise you cannot distinguish between Manchester United and Sir Alex Ferguson. While Ferguson did not create the club, the time, effort and character he has poured into it has spawned an entity which may as well be completely separate from the club he inherited. Transformation may not be creation, but it is close. Their influence on their companies is outsized and not even debatable, the numbers are unforgiving of skeptics. At Apple, Jobs has created approximately $350 billion in shareholder value since his return in 1997 or 98.5% of its value. At Manchester United Sir Alex has added 37 trophies to the cabinet which, while impressive on its own, needs to be placed in perspective. Those 37 trophies, cups, shields (how I long for a good ‘Champions Basket’ or “Barrel) represent almost 60% of the club’s awards and were all won in 10% of the club’s 233-year history.
Jobs and Ferguson are leaders without equal, but as they both move closer to retirement the question of succession looms large on the horizon. Jobs remains in an advisory role on the Apple board after stepping down from the CEO position, but he will leave sooner rather than later. The same holds true for Sir Alex who will be 70 years old this December, his retirement is surely within sight. Hopefully both will continue to enjoy good health but the issue of who will lead upon their departure is inescapable and will dominate the near future of both companies. How do you replace someone who is irreplaceable? Is it even possible? No one is bigger than the club, but what do you do when someone has defined the club for longer than can be remembered?
Not to go overboard though, losing either Steve Jobs or Sir Alex does not mean the Four Horsemen are going to be trotting down the path anytime soon. Both companies have built world class infrastructures with immensely talented designers, managers, coaches and players whose experience will sustain the momentum each organization has built. But as with all systems, maintenance only works up to a certain point, creative vision and leadership are needed to continue adapting as conditions change. The challenge of finding a new leader is immense and the outcome uncertain, one thing that is assured is the collective sigh of relief from the competition as the two most successful managers of a generation head out to pasture.