The former Manchester United manager will kick off a long-term teaching contract in executive education this spring, lecturing senior managers who take the school’s course in the business of entertainment, media and sports.
It is not clear, however, if “Succession Planning Level 1” is going to be on his syllabus. Sir Alex won 49 trophies in 39 years as a football manager before he retired last year, but he has been criticised for choosing David Moyes as his successor. Manchester United have had a terrible run this season.
During Sir Alex’s 26 full seasons as manager, Manchester United finished below third in the Premier League on only three occasions, and won the title 13 times.
Up until this year they had not lost more than nine games in an entire season of the 22-year-old Premier League. This season, however, under Mr Moyes, the team have already lost 10 league games; with six fixtures remaining, they run the risk of failing to qualify for next season’s European competitions.
Harvard did not disclose Sir Alex’s fee, how many appearances he will make each year or how long each lecture will be. However, executives on the course might want to prepare themselves for classes running over. The Scot became known for “Fergie time” – a reference to the belief among opposition teams that referees would allow as much injury time as necessary for Manchester United to avoid defeat.
Sir Alex’s signing for Harvard follows a two-year collaboration with Anita Elberse, an HBS professor. In 2012 she developed a case study called “Sir Alex Ferguson: Managing Manchester United”, and the two have worked together analysing his management techniques. The 72-year-old has participated in several of Prof Elberse’s classes.
While he is openly tickled by the chance to impart grandiose thoughts about management, he has also privately disclosed that his move is part of a quest to keep his mind active and avoid sliding into torpor, the lot of so many once-lauded football managers in their dotage.
He said he was delighted to be joining Harvard. “The time I have already spent at Harvard has been a stimulating experience and I look forward to developing my relationship and activities with the students, faculty and friends of the Harvard Business School community,” Sir Alex said.
Prof Elberse said the university was looking forward to Sir Alex’s move “to share his remarkable leadership journey, and contribute to our executive education participants’ ability to make a profound difference in the world.”
Last year, more than 9,700 executives attended Harvard programmes on campus in Boston as well as in Mumbai and Shanghai.
Additional reporting by Roger Blitz