Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson this week revealed he is to retire at the end of the season after 26 years in charge. Retail Week looks at the retailers who carry his traits and what they can learn from the Scotsman.

Nurturing young talent

How Fergie does it: Sir Alex has carved a reputation for bringing through young, home-grown talent to become champions and internationals. David Beckham (pictured), Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs and the Neville brothers are just a few of those who emerged from United’s academy to win countless trophies.


How retail does it: Retail has a strong focus on bringing through talent from shopfloor to boardroom with much of the population enjoying their first job working in shops. Arcadia boss Philip Green and former Marks & Spencer executive chairman Sir Stuart Rose have been praised for bringing through young people through the Fashion Retail Academy. Many major retailers include Asda and Sainsbury’s also have notable graduate trainee schemes.

Building successive teams

How Fergie does it: It is believed that Fergie has created six distinct title-winning teams, bringing through a new first eleven as players move on and retire. From Schmeichel, Keane, Yorke and Cole to Rooney, Ronaldo and Van de Sar, he has created new teams which gel to create a consistent and relentless winning machine.  

How retail does it: Some retailers have developed reputations for creating teams which have moved on after achieving successful results. “Burtons and before it Sears was known as an incubator which developed talents such as Sir Stuart Rose,” says Conlumino managing director Neil Saunders.

The hairdryer treatment

How Fergie does it: Sir Alex would not have just bagged his 20th league title without some fire in his belly. When players including David Beckham –  who famously was hit by a boot kicked by Ferguson – and Jaap Stam crossed him, they left shortly afterwards. This drive has intimidated even the fiercest players and biggest egos into a team mentality.

How retail does it: Retail has a number of characters with a reputation for not suffering fools. Arcadia boss Philip Green is known for his fiery passion while Morrisons life president Sir Ken Morrison is a famed straight talker. Saunders adds: “Kate Swann has a different kind of approach, it’s more of a steely determination to not be blown off course despite what the City says. She is the Iron Lady of stationery.”

Mind games

How Fergie does it: A number of opposition managers have wilted under the glare of Ferguson’s carefully barbed comments to the media. Newcastle manager Kevin Keegan relinquished a 12-point lead on the title in 1995-96 after Ferguson wound him up while former Liverpool boss Rafael Benetiz (pictured) went on a famous rant promising only to talk about ‘facts’ after claiming Ferguson intimidated referees.


How retail does it: In the fiercely competitive marketplace of retail, undermining your opponents is a key tactic. Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley has set the tone. He said two years ago: “I’ll finish off JJB first and then I’ll move on to JD [Sports Fashion].” A year later, JJB collapsed into administration.

Loyalty and stability

How Fergie does it: Sir Alex has bred loyalty throughout his team with many players choosing to spend the bulk of their careers at Old Trafford. By creating the mentality that the Red Devils are an entity to buy into, he has deflected attention away from the individual and allowed them to focus on their games.

How retail does it: Retail has some incredible loyal staff who have risen through the ranks to the top job. Tesco chief executive Philip Clarke will next year notch up his 40th year with the retailer this year while outgoing N Brown chief executive Alan White has spent 25 years at the company.

Blaming external factors

How Fergie does it: Refereeing matches at the Theatre of Dreams has long been a tough gauntlet to run, not least because the Scotsman on the sidelines. When his team have lost it’s never their fault, its always a wrongly awarded penalty or an clear offside decision missed by the referee.

How retail does it: The weather is the most common scapegoat for retailers not enjoying a healthy time on the balance sheet. Debenhams this year issued a profit warning after stating abnormally cold weather - in January - impacted sales. Elsewhere everything from wages to rents and rates are blamed for difficulties in making a profit.