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How can the wisdom behind 38 trophies be applied to your startup?


Nurturing homegrown talent worked for the world's most successful football manager, HealthUnlocked's Co-Founder explains how it worked for his startup.

When the Harvard Business School set out to document the traits of a successful leader, you’d assume that they would have jumped straight to the likes of Tim Cook, Jeff Bezos, or Larry Page.

You’d imagine that they could shed a little bit of advice on leadership right?

Especially when you consider they’re at the helm of some of the most successful and influential companies that the world has ever seen, the collective value of which surpasses $1.28 trillion Dollars.

Instead, and to a lot of people’s surprise, Anita Elberse threw a curveball, choosing one of the most decorated managers in footballing history.

When you delve further into the article you start to realize why.

In 26 years, Sir Alex Ferguson won 38 trophies at the very top level of football, which to put into perspective, is 8 ahead of the nearest competition.

Yet, what can be drawn from Elberse’s mammoth 5,000 word piece, is that being the CEO of a startup and managing a football team isn’t too dissimilar.

Having the belief to rebuild a team in the face of adversity, setting and adhering to high standards, remaining level headed in the most stressful situations, giving the right advice and ensuring that there is constant progression are all key traits of a successful leader.

Although there’s one trait which is often overlooked in business, the importance of which is explained by the Co-Founder of the successful startup Health Unlocked, the patient focused social network.

Nurturing homegrown talent was Sir Alex’s joker in the pack at Manchester United.

And as part of a wider interview, Jorge Armanet explains the importance of nurturing homegrown talent within an organisation.

“We look to develop the roles for people, rather than getting people for a role, and the reason is both cultural and practical – requirements can change so rapidly, that you need to get people who are capable to adapt to those changes. If there is one thing that you should look for in particular, you look for people who are capable to learn.”

The importance of nurturing homegrown talent comes at the very top of Elberse’s article. Ferguson believed in starting with a strong foundation and was quoted as saying:

“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. That was in order to create fluency and a continuity of supply to the first team. With this approach, the players all grow up together, producing a bond that, in turn, creates a spirit.”

The approach certainly worked, David Beckham and Ryan Giggs came through the youth team ranks, as documented in the film Class of 92’, which followed the journey of Manchester United players developing into arguably some of the most famous players of their generation.

The lesson that can be transferred to business, is that so much pressure is put on getting the big hires right, yet sometimes- as is pointed out by Armanet and Ferguson, nurturing homegrown talent can be the most effective long term approach.

Not convinced? Step into Ferguson’s trophy room.