Ed Woodward is the current Chief Executive of Manchester United with a net worth of £10 million. He was born in Chelmsford, Essex in 1971 and grew up in humble surroundings, attending Brentwood school in the local area. At university, he studied physics at the University of Bristol but later qualified as an accountant after graduating in 1993. He began working for PWC as part of the accounting and tax advisory department. Six years later, he joined J.P. Morgan and Co. as an investment banker in the mergers and acquisitions department. In 2005 while still with J.P. Morgan, Woodward played a significant role in brokering the takeover of Manchester United by Malcolm Glazer and his family.
The seeds of the Glazer takeover were sown in 2003 when a meeting was held between the United board and members of then title Shareholders united. Discussions began to buy shares in a bid to create a dam which would make a full takeover, either domestically or overseas, impossible. Despite enthusiasm from some on the board, the deal never came to fruition, which essentially left the unprotected to any significant takeover bids. Woodward, assigned by J.P Morgan to provide the accounting work, won the affection of the Glazers by resurrecting the deal at the eleventh hour. The Glazers would buy out the stake owned by Irish racing tycoons JP McManus and John Magnier and gained 70% ownership of the club. Soon after, Woodward was recruited by the Glazers to join the club in a financial planning role.
In some newspaper profiles, Woodward was described as the “Glazer’s seventh son.” Two years later, he was put in charge of all global commercial and media operations. Woodward thrived in this role, going after an aggressive strategy he once described as “selling the diamonds”. Executives at Barcelona and Real Madrid saw Woodward as a trailblazer for how he could turn enthusiasm abroad into revenue.
In 2012, a survey revealed that United had 659 million supporters worldwide, and Woodward’s success was managing to monetise that fan base in a way never achieved by other clubs before. The financial results spoke for themselves. United’s commercial revenue rose from £48.7 million in 2005 to £117.6 million in 2012. This was largely due to renewed and improved deals with brands such as Nike, Aon, Aperol, Mister Potato, Aeroflot, Epson, Singha and DHL. The United jerseys sold in countries such as Malaysia and Thailand were counterfeit so Woodward narrowed down supporters to regions and sold commercial partnerships in each of them. Brands would now use the Manchester United logo on their product and identify as ‘official partners’, something that had never been done before. United would send players and former players to advertise the brands.
Michael Bolingbroke, who worked alongside Woodward as the club’s chief operating officer for seven years explained the secret behind his success. “He’s very measured, very considered, very cogitate in his decision making. When he makes the decision, he’s very confident it’s the right decision and that gives him the strength to see it through.“ In this role, Woodward was also credited with securing lucrative sponsorship deals with major companies worldwide such as Chevrolet and Adidas. That year, Woodward was appointed to the board of directors and named Manchester United’s vice-chairman.
In February 2013, it was announced that Woodward would succeed the retiring CEO David Gill in the top operational role at the club. His new, all-encompassing position would see him oversee both the commercial and sporting responsibilities. In May 2013, Sir Alex Ferguson retired as United manager after 26 years in charge and a new chapter in the club’s history would begin. The summer transfer window of 2013, Woodward’s first at the helm in conjunction with new manager David Moyes, was widely regarded as a disaster. United boldly pursued targets such as Cristiano Ronaldo, Robert Lewandowski and Cesc Fabregas, but ended deadline day by botching Ander Herrera’s transfer from Athletic Bilbao and with only Marouane Fellaini to show for their efforts. Less than eight months later, Moyes departed after leading United to their worst league campaign in nearly two decades.
Woodward took most of the heat for the failure and was the subject of much derision from supporters. Many demanded that he resign and it drew greater scrutiny towards him after years of success behind the scenes. Alongside Tottenham’s Daniel Levy, Woodward had become known as perhaps English football’s highest profile administrator. One thing is for sure, he was the best-paid administrator with an annual salary of £2.521 million in his first year – more than Arsenal’s Ivan Gazidiz and Manchester City’s Ferran Soriano.
In the years since, Woodward has continued to deliver huge commercial deals for Manchester United, as well as working on transfers. In 2016, Woodward hired Jose Mourinho as manager. During the same summer, United broke the world record transfer fee for Paul Pogba. They have since also spent vast sums on Romelu Lukaku and Alexis Sanchez. Five years after their last title though, they are still without a league despite the riches spent. Without doubt, Ed Woodward’s spell with United has been a great success financially but what remains to be seen is if he can help the club win trophies.