A view from Dave Trott: Start at the bottom
A view from Dave Trott

Start at the bottom

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Why would Harvard University ask Alex Ferguson to lecture on management? It became clear from his opening remarks.

"I realise that the system within a football club doesn’t have the complexity of what is required to design a nuclear submarine, build 50 million mobile phones or organise clinical trials for a new drug.

"But like every organisation, we needed to be well run and had to be sure that our system was deeply ingrained.

"Our product just happened to be a football team rather than a car or washing machine, and our whole reason for being was to make sure all the pieces of our product – all the different players – fitted together.

"I’ve always felt it’s impossible to field a great football team if you don’t have a great organisation.

"Most owners and managers mess around with team selection without any underlying purpose.

"They arrange everything back to front and are too impatient for quick results.

"Before you can consistently field a great team, you have to build a great organisation, and all the elements have to be assembled properly."

That’s exactly what most people don’t want to hear.

They’re impatient, they want quick results.

But I agree with Ferguson.

You build from the bottom up.

Take the pyramids – they’ve been around longer than any other man-made structure.

Cleopatra is as far from us today as she was from the building of the pyramids.

Cleopatra lived 2,500 years before us, and the pyramids were built 2,500 years before her.

How come they’ve outlasted everything else man-made?

Because the base is bigger and more solid than anything else.

And Ferguson is saying that’s how we build any organisation for long-term success.

We get the base right: the important hiring is done at the bottom, not the top.

We hire the right kind of youngsters, then train them and let them grow up inside the system.

We don’t just graft on a few expensive heavyweights at the top.

That’s like an upside-down pyramid.

That’s why I always found hiring was the most crucial part of running an agency.

For me, it was always the hungriest youngsters that I was looking for – not the most talented.

People who would be there after everyone else was gone, people who were not just looking for an easy ride.

People who were working for themselves, not me.

They were begging me to train them, to let them make ads, to do more work.

When I gave them a brief, it was as if I’d given them a present.

And when I had a department full of people like that, they were competing with each other to do more and better work.

I didn’t have to force anyone to do anything.

Everyone wanted to work harder and better than everyone else around them.

That’s the difference between long-term and short-term success.

Just like a great football team. •

Dave Trott is the author of Creative Mischief, Predatory Thinking and One Plus One Equals Three.