England’s living legend shares top tips he’s gleaned from his experience on the football field, as well as off it as a digital entrepreneur.
Rio Ferdinand is no stranger to success, having won the English Premier League six times, the League Cup three times, the Champions League and the Club World Cup. When you think of digital content leaders, he may not be the first name that springs to mind. But, since retiring in 2015, he’s dived into the world of digital headfirst, founding an online retailer and launching a hugely successful digital magazine called ‘5’. So what can we learn from Rio about being a winner and exceling in the digital world?
Learn how to read your customers
The ability to communicate and to read people before you deal with them, so you know how to deal with them in a certain way, is so important. Sir Alex Ferguson is the best I’ve seen at that. Having worked for different managers really enabled me to look at it a lot clearer. It’s not about dealing with everyone the same way across the board. You’ve got to read peoples’ personalities.
When Moyes came to Manchester United, we played in a tie against Bayern Munich. At the time, it would potentially be my last two games in the Champions League. I played in the first leg in the quarter finals and played really well. Then, in Munich, we were doing a warm up in a park. We were there with lots of people watching us and he came over and tapped me on the shoulder the morning of the game and said: “I’m not going to play you.” To be told that in a park with loads of strangers around, it disabled me. Moyes lost me that day.
Develop new skills
I remember I told Sir Alex Ferguson that I wanted to open a restaurant/bar in Manchester. He went bananas. Then I founded a digital magazine and he said: “What’s going on here?! You’re meant to be a footballer!” After a while, he was fine with it because he was booking tables at my restaurant. I was always interested in doing different things and I never wanted to be pigeonholed, ever. When I was a kid I played football with my friends but I always wanted to do other things and experiment. I did ballet and gymnastics and a kid from my background doing ballet is frowned upon a little, but I was interested in seeing what was out there and doing new things. I’ve always been like that. So, when it came to retiring from football, I was lucky to have lots of great options and now I’m busier than ever.
Speed and agility are crucial
I’m working on a project at the moment, which we’re trying to roll out nationwide. It’s called Legacy and it’s all about social and affordable housing but the meetings after meetings I’ve had to have to get through the bureaucracy is just so alien to me as a footballer. I would sit down with Sir Alex Ferguson for half an hour, shake hands and the next day your contracts there and you sign it, off you go. To come from that and go into this, not even getting a ‘yes’ but just trying to get someone on side, the amount of meetings, talking, emails is just phenomenal. It’s a different world. In terms of speed and efficiency I’m trying to introduce that into the business world. All the start-up and digital stuff we do, speed is a big part of it – getting it pushed out to people as quickly as possible. YouTube is a great tool for the younger generation. It’s such a quick platform to be able to get things out to people, to get a message out to people, get a message or product out to people around the world.
Make the most of your connections
Luckily, I have good access to a lot of football players and good relationships with them. Through them I’ve met various people, so our first interviews in ‘5’, our digital magazine, were with Roger Federer, Usain Bolt etc. Great people in sport, and I was in their world. Having access to them was beautiful and made things a lot quicker for us. Our growth was quick and we were ‘app of the year’ on iTunes in our second year, which was great.
The England team was rubbish, we weren’t good enough, because when you’re at Manchester United, Liverpool or Chelsea and you win the league you think ‘that’s my trophy. There’s no way you’re going to get it off of me’. That’s how you think of it. When I was with the England team and we were sitting at the dinner table, none of us engaged with each other properly. It was all fake.
At the time, you don’t understand. You don’t realise that it’s affecting the team but since retiring and coming away from it I see it now.
We were all too competitive and too involved, and loved our own clubs so much that it affected the England team, which is a shame really. That really needed the manager to come and sort it out but we didn’t have good enough England managers with big enough balls to deal with it.