Interview: former Manchester City coach Pete Lowe, founder of First Team Ltd

Pete Lowe

This article appeared on BDAILY on 25th January 2016. By Richard Bell.

With the Beautiful Game forming such a prominent part of the North West’s identity and culture, I was eager to speak to the founder of a company that came on my radar recently – a Cheshire firm that blurs the lines between the worlds of football and business.

Pete Lowe, the founder of Macclesfield-based training and performance enterprise First Team Ltd, spent 13 years at Manchester City FC in the dual role of coach and head of education and performance management. During his time with the club, Pete helped cultivate 39 players for City’s first team, 25 of whom played internationally.

He told me: “I knew that someday I would have my own business as it was in my bones and I’ve always had a sense of restless ambition.

**** “There are lessons to be learned from top-level sport that could be very powerful in other sectors.” ****

“I started to realise that the knowledge I’d gained during my time in the Premiership would translate to other environments and that there are lessons to be learned from top-level sport that could be very powerful in other sectors, if harnessed.“

When I asked Pete about his position at MCFC and how it informed what he does today, he said: ”[The role] was all about getting the best from people and developing people’s raw talents and skills.

“It was also about understanding how to create the glue that makes a good team really great and having the ability to see how people would fit together and play to their natural strengths.“

Pete explained that, while at Manchester City, he learned the importance of creating a culture strong enough to support strategy, as opposed to formulating a strategy that leads to a strong culture.

**** “Olympic gold medalists don’t find themselves on the podium out of pure luck, it’s about the combination of hard work, grit and talent.” ****

“I gained the practical experience of working in a high-pressure environment that relied on sustained success,“ he said. “It’s actually a really scalable model as high performance environments don’t necessarily mean large corporations… that mindset can exist in small entrepreneurial organisation and fuel exponential growth.“

But how does the business world mirror what goes on in Premier League football? Pete said he goes by the saying ‘football is business and business is football’, adding that while the products are different, both fields are built around people.

“Both football and business,“ Pete explained, “rely on the ability to put together outstanding teams to deliver great performances, often in a pressurised environment. Astute leaders recognise what that team looks like and how it will evolve to adapt to inevitable change in order to create opportunities.

“Top-level sport thrives on having a plan for how to win. This single mindedness and determination to win just isn’t matched in other arenas. Olympic gold medalists don’t find themselves on the podium out of pure luck, it’s about the combination of hard work, grit and talent.“

First Team Ltd also considers perception, being seen as a winner, to be a crucial. It’s something Pete believes businesses can learn from – understanding why it’s important to have success-hungry people in their teams.

He continued: “I don’t talk about ‘striving for excellence’. To me that’s an intangible concept, it’s more about being committed to continuous development and always looking at how you can do better.“

**** “Organisations are keen to take insights from the Premiership and translate them into high achieving learning environments.” ****

Looking back at the last 12 months, First Team Ltd focused on building its brand and gaining traction in various sectors.

“We’re seeing some great opportunities in education,“ Pete said, “where ambitious organisations are keen to take insights from the Premiership and translate them into high achieving learning environments.

“The business is growing organically on the basis of referrals from loyal clients who really see the value in what we do. That’s the best kind of growth.

“I’ve also been privileged to be invited to some big ticket events such as the global Football is More Foundation summit in Switzerland, where I moderated a panel of international politicians and sporting leaders discussing the concept of social responsibility in football. It’s been a good year but, as ever, I’m eager to do more and to keep up the momentum.“

But keeping up that momentum will mean standing out in what is already a particularly crowded sector.

“There are an awful lot of players in the sphere of training, development and performance management,“ Pete continued, “but I think we bring something different to the table.

**** “There is a real honesty to getting a team to examine their mindsets and if it’s handled carefully it can be a massive catalyst for growth.” ****

“I’m not into industry jargon and I’m all about cutting through that to get to the heart of the issue. At MCFC I wasn’t afraid to confront difficult issues and I never felt uncomfortable with pregnant pauses.

“I’ve been described as a ‘disruptive thinker’ and I think that’s a fair assessment. It’s not something negative, it’s about challenging the accepted and helping people to think differently.

“I also think people are afraid of what they might uncover if they hold the mirror up to themselves and their business.

“In reality, when you get to the truth, that’s when the good stuff happens because there is a real honesty to getting a team to examine their mindsets and if it’s handled carefully it can be a massive catalyst for growth.“

For 2016, Pete said First Team Ltd will strive to maintain growth and continue to work with companies of all sizes, from SMEs to blue-chip brands.

**** “When I worked at MCFC they were always my first loyalty.” ****

“I also have a really solid team of people around me who advise on all aspects of the business, from marketing and PR to financial services, who will be central to First Team’s growth curve,“ he said.

To round off our discussion, I asked Pete what I’d been dying to know since I first learned about his business – is he really a Manchester City supporter? Or does his allegiance lie elsewhere, now that he’s no longer with the club?

“I grew up a MUFC fan. I watched George Best play at the first game I ever went to and, as you can imagine, I was completely blown away. However, when I worked at MCFC they were always my first loyalty and I wanted them to win the Derby matches.

“If I’m honest I’ll say that now I’m no longer at MCFC my heart is back at Old Trafford.“

The original article is available to view on BDAILY.

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