Creating a Corporate Dynasty

Something I like about football, and something I think business can learn from, is its open and honest commitment to investment in bench strength.

Last weekend Manchester United’s new Manager, Jose Mourinho, toured the training ground and outlined his vision for the club having signed a three-year contract. Indeed, he is said to have already “begun work on creating a new dynasty at United after three years of mediocrity”.

Since Sir Alex retired, Manchester United has been somewhat in the doldrums and looking for its next great leader. Will Mourinho, whose football pedigree includes successes at Chelsea, Real Madrid and inter Milan, be the one to return the club to its former glory?

Bench strength

Overt and honest, a football club manager knows the success of his club is dependent as much on its rising stars and ability to bring top people in, as it is to field a winning team this season. A winning team in football is the sum of its people from manager to substitute bench.

In business, we typically don’t look at succession and talent pipelines for the whole team, we’re restricted to the Board, executive committee and perhaps the next level of senior leadership. Manchester United’s outgoing manager, Louis Van Gaal, argues his legacy will be on the team- the youngsters he has brought through.

That’s a great philosophy yet as true as it is in business, I suspect the same will happen at Manchester United. What’s the first thing Jose will do?

The first thing he’ll do is hold talks to change his squad!

And so the cycle begins again.

It’s about great combinations

More explicit in sport than business is the acceptance that you need great combinations, not just a great leader or great individuals. Leaders of sports teams actively look at performance and potential, (acknowledging some team members are not fully fledged) and they monitor both in order to create winning combinations.

In reality my real sports passion lies in the world of equestrian three-day eventing (link is a 1 min video if you don’t know what eventing looks like). Here a team is made up of horses and their riders; not interchangeable but competing as one unit. As unpredictable animals who have a habit of injuring themselves, the team managers have to look at great combinations as well as a strong bench.

It takes years to build a team to world-class standard and if we look at the last three Great Britain Olympic Eventing Olympic squads, Great Britain is doing a great job of fielding a strong team from a constantly changing shortlist as horses and riders are out of action or reaching their peak:

  • 2012 Olympics: GB team silver (Zara Philips, Nicola Wilson, William fox Pitt, Mary King and Tina cook)
  • 2008 Olympics: GB team 4th (Tina cook, Daisy dick, William fox Pitt, Sharon Hunt, Mary King)

Just 60 days until the 2016 Rio Olympics, and who is on the GB eventing shortlist? Who knows! Horses injure themselves all the time! But we can expect that Pippa Funnel, William fox Pitt and Zara Philips are all there or thereabouts judging by their recent form.

So when the team is made up of great combinations of teams within a team, you have to look at the whole and not just the leader- I knew we could learn something from my passion!

Great leaders build great teams

Considering only 7% of CEOs think they have the right talent strategy for future, it would appear that business doesn’t look at the team as a whole, or look to invest sufficiently in their bench strength. How can we bring some of GB’s sporting success to business?

Perhaps we should move our CEOs to three year fixed contracts?

But here’s where my theory falls apart.

The GB equestrian team manager, Yogi Breisner, has been leading the team since 2000 and led them to medal wins in 2004 at Athens, 2008 in Beijing and 2012 in London.

So what do we learn from this? Great managers pick great teams!

Follow me @aettridgeWR


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