01 Jun 1996

Keepers of the Flame

HBS's Olympic Organizers
by Garry Emmons


It's an international celebration of sport and goodwill whose humble beginnings date back two millennia. Today, with the vastly expanded modern Games, putting on the Olympics has become as much of a test of management skill as athletic prowess. Four HBS alumni discuss their roles in helping mount the XXVIth Olympiad, opening next month in Atlanta.

On an overcast morning in Atlanta, as the airport rapid transit train glides past auto-body shops and rain-swept intersections toward downtown, a passenger can glimpse in the distance a gleaming white structure rising against low, gray skies. Although empty and silent today, this bright new Olympic stadium - an architectural and cultural legacy of ancient Greece, plunked down in America's "New South" - will soon rock with the roar of 80,000 spectators as they cheer the world's most-anticipated festival of sport, culture, and international goodwill.

With the Games only weeks away, officials at the headquarters of the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games (ACOG) are putting the final touches on a six-year preparation effort that culminates with next month's opening ceremonies. To make this quadrennial extravaganza a reality, ACOG has had some truly Olympian details to take care of, including planning for 2 million spectators (joined by 3 billion television viewers, or 60 percent of the human race); 15,000 athletes and officials from 197 participating countries; 30 visiting heads of state; 15,000 media representatives; 88,000 Olympic committee staff and volunteers; 35 new or modified venues; 35 training sites; 8 Olympic villages; 11.2 million tickets; and 750,000 nights' worth of accommodations. But perhaps the most significant number of all has been the $1.7 billion ACOG has had to raise to get the whole show off the ground.

Weights and Hurdles

This is the sort of heavy lifting that has occupied A.D. Frazier, Jr. (85th AMP), COO of ACOG, for the last five years. Asked how he's enjoying the workout, the gruff but amiable Frazier tilts back in his chair at ACOG's downtown offices and ticks off a seemingly endless to-do list of chores and challenges. How does he handle the pressure? "I sleep like a baby," Frazier smiles. "I'll sleep for two hours, then wake up and start crying for two hours."

Frazier's sense of humor, self-deprecating and otherwise, is a valuable attribute. It helps him to deflate some of the enormous pressures of his job and deploy the full range of management skills, savvy, and perseverance that he was hired to bring to what is truly a remarkable civic effort. On its first try (a virtually unheard-of accomplishment), Atlanta, the eleventh largest metropolitan area in the United States, won the right over some of the world's great capitals to host the Games' one-hundredth anniversary.

From his sixth floor office, Frazier overlooks the Georgia Dome, an important Games venue, and Ted Turner's Cable News Network headquarters. That building's giant red call letters - CNN - are a vivid reminder that Atlanta is no stranger to entrepreneurial, global enterprise. And that is what the Games have become - a huge commercial and organizational endeavor that is as much about management as it is about medals.

Indeed, a world-class management team is now as fundamental a part of the Olympics as world-class athletes. Successful marketing of the Olympics - which is essential for financing the Games - depends on the Olympic movement's continued integrity, reputation for excellence, and "goodwill." That inherent value, Frazier emphasizes, "is only as sound as the operational integrity and quality of the organization that is presenting the Games to the world."

In January, ACOG announced that it had revenues and commitments equal to 90 percent of its budget requirements, with the bulk coming from broadcast rights, ticket sales, and corporate sponsorship. The remaining 10 percent - or nearly $200 million - was expected to come from additional ticket sales and sponsorships, souvenir sales, parking, and miscellaneous sources. "We're chugging along," Frazier says, "slightly ahead in committed revenues over incurred expenses."

As the operational "go-to guy" of the Games, Frazier in turn depends heavily on his close aide, Deputy COO Kay Wallace (MBA '90). The pair constitutes a formidable one-two punch when things need to get done immediately - as has been the case daily for some years now. Both are from the South and cite a desire to give something back to the region - as well as the once-in-a-lifetime chance to be part of the Olympics - as among their reasons for taking on the ACOG challenge. "Along with the sense of pride and place," says Frazier, an Atlanta native who returned home after nine years at the First National Bank of Chicago, "the volunteer, Olympic-spirit nature of this bid attracted me to the cause. Under the leadership of Atlanta real-estate attorney Billy Payne, who is now ACOG's president and CEO, a small group of local people was determined to bring the Olympics here because they felt it would uplift the entire community in many good and positive ways," he elaborates. "The corporate support came along much later."

Wallace, an Alabama native, enjoyed highly successful stints at Dow Chemical, McKinsey, and the Georgia Research Alliance, a business/government council, before signing on with ACOG. "Once I met A.D., I felt he was a person I really wanted to work with," says Wallace, who combines a winning personality with a team-spirit approach to the ACOG mission. "I try to support him in any fashion that will allow him to make the best use of his time. When I get involved with something, it's usually assisting others in advancing the ball or getting to a point where we can pass the ball to another person.

"If something's running smoothly, and it's ho-hum," Wallace says of her work preferences, "then let somebody else do it. If it's a turnaround, startup, or fire fighting, I'm there."

Due largely to the vision of Billy Payne, in 1989 Atlanta was awarded the 1996 Games. Like Los Angeles, the Olympics' host city in 1984, Atlanta is funding the Games almost exclusively with private money. One major difference, however, between the two cities' efforts is that because of an abundance of existing venues, Los Angeles had virtually no new construction to finance. Atlanta, by contrast, has had to build about half its Olympic facilities (at a cost of $550 million) and raise about three times as much money as the LA committee. The 1996 Games will dwarf the 1984 event and feature many more visitors and athletes than the most recent Summer Games in Barcelona in 1992.

With its dream in hand and the Olympics in its pocket, Atlanta quickly turned to Frazier to lead its implementation effort. In 1991t. In 1991, ACOG and Frazier began the planning and organizational process that will culminate in sixteen days of athletic competition from July 19 to August 3. After the closing ceremony, the years of work will be over and the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games will turn out its lights and cease to exist. As Frazier says, "We're building - and then taking apart - a Fortune 500-sized company in four years' time."

It is difficult to imagine a project of similar scale, scope, import, and diversity of stakeholders, whose goal is so ephemeral - a fleeting celebration of human achievement and brotherhood. "There's no blueprint, and every Games is different, " says Frazier, who compares the Olympics exercise "to putting on three Super Bowls a day for sixteen days."

Track Records and a Marathon Sprint

Frazier notes that for such an endeavor to succeed, the ability to rapidly build a cohesive entity - forming an institution - is of paramount importance. The Olympics' mission and goals must be achieved by an organization in which all 88,000 workers are new, many are temporary, and half are volunteers, an entity that has no preexisting procedures and methods, no institutional memory, no long-term viewpoint, no established corporate culture, and, by definition, no future. "Think of the corporate life cycle as being fast-forwarded on videotape," says Frazier. "Once established, the organization embarks on an evolutionary development process where management responsibilities frequently change. In part because of its short-term and pressure-packed nature, this is the kind of organization that requires hands-on participation and leadership, nurturing, and tending."

Kay Wallace points to "night-and-day" differences that coexist at ACOG. "At one level," she says, "you have proven management types with fifteen years of professional experience. On another, you have youthful people who are skilled at putting together brief, demanding projects - before they move on to the next one. The two groups speak completely different languages and have totally different approaches to getting things accomplished. The challenge lies in continually trying to get the organization to its endpoint - putting on the Games - while trying to form a culture."

Explains Wallace, "This job reinforces the need to have a general management focus. You have to understand the totality of the entity, not just a piece of the operation. If I only thought about finance, I'd lose the people and operations side. If I only thought about mission and systems, I'd lose the finance side."

On the subject of finance, she emphasizes, "The bottom line is that the Olympics - especially when they're privately funded - are a big business in which you're trying to make a profit. Some people get caught up in the nostalgia of the Games and think of them as anything but a business. The reality is you have sponsors who are paying $40 million - they want a return on their investment, and they expect you to operate like a business."

While Wallace spends a lot of time as a troubleshooter, she has a variety of other duties to carry out as well. Asked what she'd been occupied with in the previous couple of weeks, she cited two different activities. "I went to the Super Bowl in Arizona and actually worked as part of their operational team in the set-up and tear-down of the event. You focus on things like how to manage photographers around the field, what's going on with the security people, concessions, merchandise, and on and on. You can learn something from virtually any event.

"Then yesterday, by contrast," she continues, "I spent two hours huddling with our advisory group on disability access, a group of volunteers we put together to advise ACOG on various issues. In some ways, because this is the first major multisport event since the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990, we're pioneers at interpreting the law."

And when the Games begin, Wallace is asked, will she be able to relax a bit and enjoy them? She laughs and replies, "When I see the film clip of gymnast Mary Lou Retton at the 1984 Games receiving her gold medal, I think: 'The flowers left the refrigerator 20 minutes before she got them; the medal left the vault 45 minutes ago and was carried by an armed guard.' In other words, I think about the systems that lead up to that event and all the things that must fall into place to make it happen - not just about the event itself."

In tandem with the athletic competition of the Games, the International Olympic Committee Charter calls for an arts and cultural festival for the period preceding and during the Olympic Games. ACOG has committed to the most expansive Cultural Olympiad ever, a multiyear celebration of arts, culture, and entertainment that culminates in the nine-week Olympic Arts Festival from June 1 to August 4. Classical and popular artists and performers from around the world, diverse and award-winning ensembles from across the Southeast United States, specially commissioned works, and numerous free events highlight the Festival.

A key player in this aspect of the centennial Olympic Games is Fern Segerlind (MBA '82), who, as the Cultural Olympiad's manager of sales and promotions, oversees much of the marketing end of the 1996 Olympic Arts Festival. "We market the festival as a once-in-a-lifetime experience to go along with the once-in-a-lifetime cachet of the Olympics," Segerlind says. "With the Games as a symbol of excellence, and with the Festival's own extraordinary artists, we can position ourselves as the cultural equivalent of Olympic athleticism and achievement."

Segerlind, a former Atlanta resident and longtime executive at the Smithsonian Institution, has five principal areas of responsibility - Cultural Olympiad ticket sales, publications, special events, merchandise, and "Look of the Games," Atlanta 1996's signature graphics and signage - that she manages in support of the approximately two hundred ticketed performances and exhibitions, as well as the many free events, that constitute the 1996 Olympic Arts Festival.

"We made a big effort to keep events affordable and accessible, especially for families," says Segerlind. "There will be daily free performances as part of our 'Southern Crossroads' festival in Centennial Olympic Park, which is being constructed at the heart of the 'Olympic Ring,' the core area of Atlanta where the bulk of Olympic events will take place.

"At the Smithsonian," Segerlind continues, "I managed a large staff and a multimillion-dollar budget and had frequent contact with donors and supporters. This is a totally different kind of job for me, in which I juggle far more projects on a day-to-day basis within a context of far fewer resources in terms of staff, dollars, and especially time." The changing mix of employees and the fluid and up-tempo nature of decision-making for ACOG's project- and deadline-oriented mandate also differ greatly from the magisterial culture the Smithsonian has built up over 150 years of serving the American public, Segerlind says.

With a lineup that includes performers such as Wynton Marsalis, Itzhak Perlman, Paul Sorvino, and Jessye Norman, original works commissioned from playwrights Sam Shepard and Alfred Uhry, and headliners from around the world in the visual arts and dance, the Cultural Olympiad offers something memorable for every 1996 Olympic Games visitor. "Like the folks involved with the sports side of the Games, we intend for this to be the best Olympic Arts Festival ever," says Segerlind.

After the last medal is awarded, and the athletes, artists, and spectators go home, what will be the legacy of Atlanta 1996? For her part, Segerlind hopes there will be greater recognition nationally and internationally for Atlanta and the Southeast as important, innovative players in world culture. "We also hope that associations between the many arts organizations in the community and region will be strengthened, and that with them, we will have established a legacy of new and broader audiences for the arts," she says. A.D. Frazier observes, "The legacy of these Games is rooted in the volunteer, community spirit in which the original bid was conceived. Everything we're building - nine major projects, including the Olympic Stadium, the swimming, tennis, and other venues and public spaces - will be handed over for community use at no cost to the public. ACOG's $1.7 billion investment will in the end generate an additional $3.3 billion for the Southeast's economy." Frazier further notes that the economic opportunities generated by the Games have been distributed across a wide spectrum: 30 percent of discretionary spending, including construction, has been directed toward women- and minority-owned firms.

"In my view, however, the most significant legacy is the prestige and favorable reputation the Games will create for Atlanta and the Southeast," says Frazier. "It will influence people's thinking in terms of where they will choose to locate a business or make an investment."

But with so much excitement, pageantry, and drama in store in the coming days, it seems premature to speak of closure and legacies. The long-awaited moment is at hand, and the world is turning its attention to Atlanta. Let the Games begin!

"We'll be ready," says Frazier.

Raw Ground and Givebacks Arthur C. Mosley, Jr.

After years of experience in real-estate acquisition and project management, Art Mosley (MBA '68), ACOG's director of venue acquisition, has seen his share of controversies surrounding property issues and negotiations. So it was with pleasant anticipation that he contemplated a major phase of his ACOG job description: donating dozens of newly constructed or renovated Olympic venues to local entities after the Games.

"I thought arranging terms with the recipients of these givebacks would be among the easiest deals I've ever made," Mosley chuckles. "But it's amazing how difficult it is to give facilities away. It turns out that people have understandable concerns about their ability to maintain and utilize them over time."

Post-Games Wrap-Up

Mosley began working with ACOG in 1992. Supported by a team of six lawyers, and by ACOG's construction division and its $500 million budget, he has overseen the acquisition of all Olympic sites, including 35 competition venues, another 35 separate training facilities, and approximately 50 miscellaneous sites for use as office space, warehousing, transportation, and other logistical functions.

"In all cases," Mosley explains, "these are leases; we do not buy property. The owners put up raw ground or existing facilities, and we build or make improvements. We erect permanent structures only when we have a definite post-Olympic commitment and use; all other sites and improvements are designed to be only temporary and will be torn down after the Games. We learned that lesson from the 1976 Montreal Games - a lot of structures had no real use after their Olympics, and now they're having problems maintaining them."

The new Olympic Stadium, the centerpiece of the Atlanta Games, has been one of Mosley's biggest challenges. "A lot of politics was involved," he observes, "because there were four major stakeholders - Fulton County, the city of Atlanta, ACOG, and the Atlanta Braves, who will become the stadium's tenants after a post-Olympic retrofit for baseball." A more typical project, Mosley says, involves two Atlanta-area educational institutions - Morris Brown College and Clark Atlanta University - which will inherit two small stadiums built for Olympic field-hockey competition. After the Games, the two schools will share the facilities, with one stadium being converted for track and field and the other for college football.

Like many of his ACOG colleagues, Mosley notes that despite years of acquired expertise, planning the Olympics is a novel experience in many ways. "A lot of this kind of work is new to us," he says. "The athletes, the sponsors, the broadcasters - they all seem to be old hands at this business. Around my office, the joke goes that as first-time organizers of the Games, we're the only real 'amateurs' in the Olympic movement."


Post a Comment