In terms of prestige and esteem around the world, Manchester United Football Club goes unmatched. Arguably the world's most famous club, Man. U., as the team is more commonly known, is one of only three sports franchises in the world to be worth over $3 billion, trailing behind Spanish powerhouses Real Madrid and Barcelona. The team has grown accustomed to winning title every other year, having picked up 13 English Premier League trophies in the last 26 seasons, while seeing the likes of David Beckham and Cristiano Ronaldo grace their jerseys.
Simply put, for the past three decades, Manchester United has been a really, really successful team.
Up until last May, all of that success had occurred under one manager, 71-year-old Sir Alex Ferguson, who retired at the end of the 2012-13 season after enjoying decades dominating Britain's headline sport.
And while Ferguson, who hadn't won a league title until his seventh year in Manchester, has seen many of his coaching counterparts rashly fired through the years, the Scottish legend says the key to United distinguishing itself from the rest has been the team's ability to stick to a plan and maintain continuity.
"From the moment I got to Manchester United, I thought of only one thing: building a football club. I wanted to build right from the bottom. The first thought of 99% of newly appointed managers is to make sure they win – to survive," Ferguson told the Harvard Business Review. "Winning a game is only a short-term gain – you can lose the next game. Building a club brings stability and consistency."
Ferguson's suggestion is interesting enough when you consider it in the context of his own career, but even more so when you connect it to the world of business and the questions that young entrepreneurs face when they start growing their companies.
The notion that teams (and for many startups that have small staffs, "team" is very much the operative word) are too focused on short-term survival and worry excessively about gaining wins in the immediate future is a fascinating observation, especially when you consider the stories of other entrepreneurs who can relate to this viewpoint.
Jon Oringer for example, the billionaire CEO of Shutterstock, made it a point that he had never accepted outside funding for his venture. Sure, he could have gotten a lot of money to help his business grow, but accepting funding, Oringer says, might have lead to a problem down the road.
"Being an entrepreneur means being able to pivot quickly, shut down a business that isn’t performing and move on," he said. "If you use somebody else’s cash, you may be forced to continue even though you know it’s time to move on.”
For Oringer, building a strong, self-sustaining enterprise on his own terms was his paramount concern when he started Shutterstock, much in the same way that Alex Ferguson's priority was to construct a distinct club with its own identity.
Sir Alex Ferguson may not be a businessman, but his advice comes after a career of being the number one figure of a franchise that generates hundreds of millions in revenue annually. His words are valuable for anyone and, for entrepreneurs especially, his message should be taken as a simple lesson. Beware of the short-term gain, especially if it detracts from the focus of your long-term goal.
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