The London 2012 Olympics represents a monumental organizational challenge. By the time the games have begun on July 27, 2012, the event's organizer, the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games (LOCOG), will have amassed a workforce of around 200,000 full-time staff, volunteers, and contractors. A total of £2 billion will have been raised from sources that include sponsorships, broadcasting rights, and merchandise. The entire Olympic Park and other new infrastructure for the games will have been constructed. Diverse stakeholders will have been coordinated, including governments, sports associations, businesses, and other organizations. And by the time the games have concluded, on August 12, millions of fans will have watched tens of thousands of athletes compete in dozens of individual sports.
Making sure all these myriad strands come together is Paul Deighton, CEO of LOCOG. Before joining LOCOG in April 2006, Deighton was European chief operating officer for Goldman Sachs and a member of its European Management Committee. During his 22-year career with the firm, he held a number of client-facing and management roles.
Toby Owens, a partner and managing director in the London office of The Boston Consulting Group, recently spoke with Deighton about his experience leading the games. The following is an excerpt from their conversation.
What is the role of the chief executive in the London 2012 Organizing Committee?
It's my job to build the organization essentially from scratch and to deliver the Olympic and Paralympic Games on time and on budget. The opening ceremony on July, 27, 2012, is the mother of all immovable deadlines. We've got 26 different sports for the Olympic Games, which add up to about 41 different world championships that you have to put on simultaneously. We have just over two weeks to transition to doing the same again for 20 sports simultaneously for the Paralympic Games. So the job is to make sure we've built an organization that can stage those events, manage the events individually, bring together everybody who needs to be involved—both the sports behind each of those events and everybody you need in the city and country to stage and to host the massive numbers of people who come to town—and to bring everybody along with you.
When you arrived at LOCOG in 2006, what was your initial set of priorities in the first six to 12months?
I was very clear that my initial priorities were mostly about building the leadership team. It's a tough ask. You have to find people who can really build the functions from scratch, people who are capable of getting their hands really dirty and getting into the details. But then we have to build, in each of our areas, an organization that by the time you get to games time is as big as any FTSE 100 company in the country. So I needed a leadership team that could go through that journey. That was my first priority. The second one was to make sure we had relationships with all the other organizations or stakeholders who were interested in the outcome and who had a role to provide in delivering it, and to make sure that we were all aligned and we understood what we were trying to do and how we were going to do it. And then thirdly, having looked at what had happened to past organizing committees, to really focus on raising the money. My quick-and-dirty analysis of what normally went wrong with organizing committees was that they typically ran out of money. From a practical point of view, I knew we needed to get out on the road and bring in significant amounts of sponsorship early in order to keep control of our own destiny.
How do you build a team from such a diverse group of individuals?
The first thing you do is to figure out how to attract the right set of people. Generally speaking, I was going to pay them less than they would get elsewhere. I was also for sure going to be firing them in less than seven years' time. So they had to buy into the dream that I bought into: the biggest thing in my city, in my country, in my lifetime—and wouldn't it just be great to be a part of it? I generally liked the people who felt that they were at the peak, or just before the peak, of their careers and they had one great big job left in them and they really wanted to give it their all. It was a combination of a personal thing, but also a form of patriotism. That was the ideal combination of motivations and skills. In most cases, it was people who've done big jobs before, because that's the only way you can really test their capability to go on that journey I talked about earlier, from a startup to a massive organization.
You have to deal with an awful lot of stakeholders. How have you managed to coordinate and control all those different agendas over the course of the last six years?
It's an enormous challenge, but what you have to figure out initially is where your obvious alignments are and how you can exploit those for all they're worth. Ultimately, who in this country doesn't want the Olympic and Paralympic Games to be a great success? So you always go back to the core objective and get people aligned behind that. And then it's a question of breaking down at what point they're prepared to do the things you need them to do for it to be a great success, which quite often means contributing money, people, and resources.
You had some quite ambitious commercial targets in terms of raising revenue, particularly given the macroeconomic backdrop. How are you doing against those targets?
You're right, we set our ambitious targets in a bull market and then had to deliver them in a bear market, which is not the way round you normally want to do it. With respect to raising domestic sponsorship, which was effectively a third of the organizing committee's budget, we exceeded that, as it turned out. I think we did that for a number of reasons. One, we absolutely stuck to the target, believed in it, and drove everybody to deliver behind it, even though a third of the way through the process the economy essentially fell off a cliff. We did that by, number one, moving very fast and getting some big benchmark-setting deals done early on in the process. Number two, big companies in this country wanted to be a part of it. For the same reasons we managed to hire great individuals, we got great companies involved because they just said yeah.
More broadly, what are your hopes and aspirations for the long-term legacy of the games?
You can already see the physical legacy. Anybody who goes to the Olympic Park, and who has a picture of what it was like before, sees that the transformation in this part of East London has been absolutely massive. It's been absolutely and utterly transformed into a wonderful new site, with the land cleaned up and the water cleaned up. We've got great sports venues, the new Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, and the biggest urban shopping center in Stratford City right next door to it. The Athletes’ Village will be the beginning of a wonderful new residential development. The physical transformation of this particular part of town is already demonstrably in place and would not have happened at the kind of speed or transformational scale we've seen in the seven years that we've gotten with the games. That's the beauty of the immovable deadline when the eyes of the world are upon you. That was a 30-year project, at best, without the games.
Do you see the games as building a legacy among young people by encouraging active participation in sports, and potentially more broadly?
This participation objective is really part of what we always call the "Singapore promise." Singapore was where we won the right to stage the games, the bid. Seb Coe [the head of the London bid to host the games] gave a famous speech that said if we won the games, we'd take the inspiration of the Olympic Games to inspire young people to choose sports—not just in the U.K., but right around the world. We have already put in place a wonderful international program that we call International Inspiration, which is in 20 countries around the world and has already worked with more than 12 million children. You can see, the target was 20 and 12—we are good at setting targets. Domestically, the key questions are: What is the link between seeing your heroes in the Olympic and Paralympic Games and then going out and wanting to do it yourself? What intervention do policymakers have to make to ensure that the coaches are there, the time's there, the encouragement's there, the playing fields are there, to ensure that the inspiration gets translated into sustained sports participation?
The 2008 Beijing Games are a pretty tough act to follow. What do you hope people will remember the London Games for?
Beijing is a hard act to follow, but the beauty of the games is that it does move from city to city: the magic of going from Sydney to Athens to Beijing to London to Rio. That's extraordinary. As a sort of simple economist, I always used to think, let's just put it in Olympia and save the costs and go back there every year. Now, having been in the middle of it, I know that the magic of the games is going from city to city. I'm actually very happy following on Beijing, because we are very different, and the contrast will be the magic for us. What do I hope we get out of it? Firstly, internally in this country, I hope it gives us, in a nice, humble, British kind of way, a real sense of pride that we could get ready for this in such a good way and that we'll stage a show and present it in a very welcoming way. This is about you, the world; it's not about us telling you how great we are. It's about us taking this opportunity to share some of that spirit of humanity, which this international gathering of athletes gives us the opportunity to put together. The pride of doing that really well, in a way that celebrates what's best about the games, is to me at the core of this. Everything else follows from that.