Tech investor Gary Neville says one of the best decisions he ever made was to leave Manchester United and strike out to forge a career in business.
Speaking at the launch of tech store Sync on Manchester’s Deansgate, he said the last five years have been a “learning curve” as he immersed himself in the city’s property, hotel and digital sectors.
“I finished playing football at 36 with a clear ambition to achieve more in the next 30 years than I had in the previous 30 years and not always be Mr ex-Manchester United,” he said.
“That’s very difficult. I was offered a job at Manchester United as a youth team coach and an ambassador, but one of the best decisions I ever made was to leave – I had to get out and learn. I’ve sat in every single meeting for the last five years in every single project.
“I’m still making mistakes, as you’d expect, but I’m now learning to focus, delegate more and not get involved in the minutiae of each business [after] bringing the right people in to run them.”
He added: “For my first five years as a right-back I was making stupid mistakes at the back post… later, from the ages of 27 to 32, I made barely any. This is the same journey.
“But towards the end of my career I went back to making mistakes because my legs gave up on me!”
— BusinessCloud.co.uk (@BCloudUK) March 8, 2018
Neville and former team-mate Ryan Giggs are behind the £200 million city centre St Michael’s development which won approval from the local council yesterday and is now subject to final approval from central government.
However he says digital agency E3creative, which he bought into in 2015, is his “best-performing” business. It generated a turnover of £2.6m in 2017, an increase of 47 per cent from the previous year.
“When it comes to brand-building and creativity, I don’t like the idea of subcontracting to an agency as they don’t get to know your business,” he said.
“I wanted my tech business to immerse itself in my other businesses, my ideas and the passion and culture I wanted to create. It’s been unbelievable.”
The Sky Sports pundit and former England assistant coach had a four-month tenure as head coach of Valencia which ended in March 2016. The Spanish club had a record just three wins from 16 matches under Neville – but he says the experience was invaluable from a business management perspective.
“It taught me a lot about needing the right people around me and the challenge as a boss of wanting to be loyal, but needing to be clinical,” he said.
“There were four of us on the coaching team and none of us had experience of the league or the ability to speak the language – that was a really big mistake.”
On the future of the digital tech sector in Manchester, he said: “Digital tech is such a huge part of the city at this moment in time.
“Skills training is the most critical item that needs to be addressed. Tech is only going to become more prominent and immersed in every single industry. Like sport and music, it’s crucial to Manchester – and the city will become more dependent on it.
“What worries me is the skills shortage in the sector: you get your staff pinched off you and it’s difficult to replace them with quality.
“Technology should be a thread through every single educational subject, every single degree: whether you’re a football player, a nurse, someone practising law or in business, you can’t survive nowadays without digital competency.
“It should be an obligation in education.”
Apple-accredited store Sync sells, repairs and trains people around tech products and is backed by IT firm GBM Digital Technologies.
Neville said: “The personal contact, passion and knowledge from the staff when people walk into the shop is obvious to see.”
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