A MAN­AGER’S SE­CRETS

WHAT SIR ALEX TOLD ME

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SIR MICHAEL Moritz is fid­dling with his knit­ted tie, eyes ner­vously dart­ing this way and that. Con­tem­plat­ing my first ques­tion about the ef­fects of his par­ents be­ing refugees from the Nazis build­ing a new life in Cardiff, he tight­ens his lips, leans back, cross­ing and re-cross­ing his legs, eas­ing the bot­toms of his feet out of his well-worn slip-ons so that they swing on his arched toes. His rest­less­ness is, I ad­mit, a lit­tle in­tim­i­dat­ing. Or is it re­luc­tance about be­ing the cen­tre of at­ten­tion?

“Yes, I’ve al­ways been an out­sider, that’s true and, yes, I sup­pose it has pro­pelled me in some way. I sup­pose that sta­tus al­lows me to see things in a dif­fer­ent way.”

It’s also al­lowed the 61-year-old Welsh-born ven­ture cap­i­tal­ist to amass an ex­tra­or­di­nary for­tune and stel­lar rep­u­ta­tion as one of the planet’s most as­tute and sup­port­ive in­vestors. As a part­ner at Se­quoia Cap­i­tal in Sil­i­con Val­ley, his busi­ness suc­cess- es are a Who’s Who of the in­ter­net. In­vest­ments in Google, Ya­hoo!, Link edIn, PayPal and YouTube, among oth­ers, have given him a for­tune in the low bil­lions. I sus­pect, how­ever, that — de­spite im­mac­u­late man­ners and one of the warmest greet­ings I’ve ever en­coun­tered — it has not given him a fond­ness for in­ter­views.

But then we’re not re­ally here to talk about Sir Michael and his ca­reer goals, most of which have been con­verted with as­sured aplomb. The point of this in­ter­view is to dis­cuss other peo­ple’s goals and, for a change, not the dig­i­tal ones of bearded en­trepreneurs who view him with God-like sta­tus. But the goals of Eric Can­tona, Ruud van Nis­tel­rooy, Teddy Sher­ing­ham, Cris­tiano Ron­aldo, Wayne Rooney and, of course, the de­ity among them all, Sir Alex Fer­gu­son.

Sir Michael has com­piled an ex­traor­di­nar­ily grip­ping and in­sight­ful book with the most suc­cess­ful man­ager in the history of Bri­tish football (2,131 games and 49 tro­phies in 38 years) look­ing into how the rules that helped him make Man- ch­ester United a global force can be rein­ter­preted and acted upon by busi­ness lead­ers. Sport, it seems, en­gen­ders the tools, at­tributes and abil­i­ties that the cor­po­rate world so des­per­ately needs.

And, he be­lieves, Sir Alex em­bod­ies the true spirit of a suc­cess­ful en­tre­pre­neur. ‘‘Clar­ity of thought, the abil­ity to com­mu­ni­cate clearly, a sense of mis­sion, the will­ing­ness to per­se­vere against ex­treme odds, to make painful de­ci­sions, to have ex­tra­or­di­nary lev­els of energy. The quest for per­fec­tion and a belief they’ve em­barked on their life’s work. That’s what the great­est en­trepreneurs I’ve had the priv­i­lege of work­ing with have had. And that’s what Sir Alex has too.

‘‘Alex and I have talked about this link for some time but he’s the more gre­gar­i­ous one so I wanted to get down in print his life lessons, what he’s learned from a game that he helped to rein­vent, that taught him so much and to which he brought so much. The par­al­lels with busi­ness are ob­vi­ous to me.’’

In­deed they are. The book they’ve writ­ten to­gether, Lead­ing, is struc- tured around key skills that Sir Alex guarded pre­ciously and looked for in play­ers and col­leagues. The im­por­tance of lis­ten­ing and watch­ing rather than fall­ing prey to in-built prej­u­dices, en­sur­ing self-dis­ci­pline and de­ter­mi­na­tion tri­umphs over ar­ro­gance and com­pla­cency, know­ing how to han­dle mav­er­icks and when to re­fresh teams, un­der­stand­ing the dif­fer­ence be­tween power and con­trol, ac­cept­ing that some­times the de­ci­sions you make are wrong and learn­ing from those mis­takes.

But the par­al­lel that in­ter­ests me most is the no­tion of be­ing an out­sider, a sta­tus that per­haps Sir Michael is all too aware of but one which, in the bo­som of his Sil­i­con Val­ley bub­ble — the epi­cen­tre of a global so­ci­etal revo­lu­tion — he per­haps doesn’t of­ten con­tem­plate.

‘‘Yes, be­ing a Welsh­man in Amer­ica has made me an out­sider. I was even an out­sider in Wales, at Ox­ford and as a for­eigner in Cal­i­for­nia. And in the tech­nol­ogy world, be­cause I don’t have a tech­nol­ogy back­ground. And Sir Alex, too, has al­ways been the out­sider — son of a ship­builder, brought up in Go­van in tough cir­cum­stances and not part of the Glaswe­gian es­tab­lish­ment. He feels that deeply, and al­ways has done. We share that trait and as he and I talked dur­ing the writ­ing of this book, what be­came ap­par­ent was that many of the play­ers that per­formed so well for him at Manch­ester United were also out­siders and came from tough back­grounds. And many of those that Se­quoia has backed have been im­mi­grants from tough back­grounds. They all share a cer­tain drive, a de­sire to suc­ceed at all costs. In fact, the vast ma­jor­ity in my world have had tough back­grounds.’’

A gifted stu­dent of Howar­dian Com­pre­hen­sive in Cardiff (it no longer ex­ists), Sir Michael had a fairly hum­ble up­bring­ing, like his sport­ing hero. Sir Michael’s fa­ther, Al­fred, was plucked as a teenager from Nazi Ger­many and given safe haven in Lon­don, where he was an aca­demic scholar, even­tu­ally be­com­ing a clas­sics pro­fes­sor at Cardiff Univer­sity. His mother Doris, mean­while, was part of the Kindertransport. Did

Yes, I’ve al­ways been an out­sider, it’s an in­spi­ra­tion

that side of his life — fam­ily flee­ing from per­se­cu­tion and, scarred by the hor­rors of war, start­ing again in un­fa­mil­iar sur­round­ings — in­flu­ence him as a child? ‘‘To be hon­est, those things didn’t af­fect the way I thought or be­haved. I’ve turned my mind to those things far more since, as an adult with my own fam­ily and a set­tled ca­reer. Cer­tainly, those were the cir­cum­stances of my early life and I was al­ways ex­tremely aware of it, of my grand­par­ents in Ger­many, of what had hap­pened. It was al­ways wo­ven in to the back­ground ta­pes­try of our life.’’

Un­like Fergie, he ex­celled at school, be­came head boy, and was more likely to be found shiv­er­ing on the touch­line with a damp sponge than find­ing him­self in the thick of the sport­ing ac­tion. He then went to Ox­ford Univer­sity where he read history. In 2012, he do­nated the univer­sity £75m to fund a new schol­ar­ship scheme to pro­vide fi­nan­cial aid to stu­dents from poorer back­grounds.

‘‘I think it is all too easy not to re­mem­ber those that can be so easily for­got­ten,’’ he says. He is also a sig­na­tory of the Bill Gates-inspired Giv­ing Pledge and will give away at least half of his wealth to char­i­ta­ble causes.

Af­ter grad­u­a­tion, a chance en­counter with the leg­endary Bill Deedes — then editor of the Daily Tele­graph — per­suaded him that his fu­ture lay well away from the mo­rose in­dus­trial tur­bu­lence of 1970s Bri­tain, and he ended up as a jour­nal­ist in New York, where he be­came the chron­i­cler of Ap­ple and Steve Jobs be­fore fi­nally forg­ing a path to­wards the West Coast that would even­tu­ally lead him to be­come one of the world’s most vi­sion­ary in­vestors.

Though sport­ing great­ness never fig­ured highly on his to-do list, one of the core re­al­i­sa­tions that suc­cess has brought him — and which he shares in­ti­mately with Sir Alex — is the ex­tra­or­di­nary ef­fect that con­sis­tently work­ing with younger peo­ple has had on both of their ca­reers.

‘‘For any leader, if they are re­ally be­ing hon­est with them­selves, the peo­ple they most en­joy be­ing around are the youngest in the or­gan­i­sa­tion be­cause they are the ones who think any­thing is pos­si­ble. As we say in the book, young play­ers will run through barbed-wire fences for you whilst older ones will try to find the gate. That’s as true in busi­ness as it is in football.

‘‘Hav­ing youth within an or­gan­i­sa­tion is en­er­gis­ing. It has inspired me and it con­tin­ues to do so. As a football man­ager, it’s es­sen­tial to have that youth­ful energy in the pipeline if you want to en­sure a good to­mor­row. Sir Alex de­rived a lot of plea­sure from the vi­brancy and sense of energy that these young men dis­played, that they would do any­thing to suc­ceed within the or­gan­i­sa­tion. And then of course he drew enor­mous pride

The best peo­ple to work with are the young ones

PHOTO: JASON FER­GU­SON

Gifted: Sir Alex Fer­gu­son, left, and Sir Michael Moritz

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