Forbes India 15th Anniversary Special

Paul Deighton: It's Vital To Let People Feel They Are Part of the London 2012 Games

The CEO of the organising committee of the London Olympics, Paul Deighton, says that the Games are all about community bonding

Published: Jul 30, 2012 10:40:28 AM IST
Updated: Aug 6, 2012 03:44:12 PM IST
Paul Deighton: It's Vital To Let People Feel They Are Part of the London 2012 Games
Image: John Gichigi / Getty Images for LOCOG

Q. How have you gone about the business of managing London 2012 differently from the way it’s been done before?
I just set out to do it as well as I possibly could. The key aspect of my leadership philosophy is, first of all, to be crystal clear on what we’re trying to create.

Right through this project we’ve adhered very closely to the promises we made in the bid when we won the Games:

  • 1. To use the power of the Games to inspire change.
  • 2. To really put athletes at the heart of what we do—because if athletes are enjoying the experience it transmits itself to all the other people involved.
  • 3. To use it as a showcase for London.
  • 4. To use it to inspire young people to choose sports.
Every time we’ve had a big decision to make, we’ve made it against these criteria.

Then we’ve been very focused on choosing the right people, getting them to work together as a team, and then really making sure that all the other organisations, both the private sector ones (our sponsors in the main), and the public sector ones—that’s central government, city government, and local borough governments—all work together because we all agree that this is such a wonderful opportunity to make Britain proud.

Q. How can India get its act together and stage a large-scale, international, scandal—and corruption-free sporting event?
The principles behind that are clear. I can only apply lessons we’ve applied, which are: You’ve got to have a very clear vision as to what you want to accomplish, and you’ve got to hire really good people who believe in that vision for delivery. And then what we had was cross-party political support. So, even though we changed government and we changed mayors during the seven-year journey we’ve been on, all parties, whether in government or in opposition, have always been supportive of us because they want these Games to be as successful as they possibly can be for the country. That’s a very important pre-condition. Unless you put that pre-condition in place, don’t go ahead with the project!

Q. What were your biggest management challenges?
The real management challenge, of course, is that this is an extraordinarily large and complicated project with a scope that can only really become clear several years into the project, when you really understand the detail of what has to be delivered. And managing all that within a constrained budget in difficult economic times against a background of an immoveable deadline–we knew the opening ceremony had to start on the July 27, 2012—and doing all that with the incredible amount of public, media and political scrutiny that we get every second of the day.

Q. Have you solved your management challenges?
No, I think we just wrestle with them every day!

Q How did you raise your £2.2 billion budget from the UK private sector?
There were a number of different streams of revenue; three principal ones that we raised from the organising committee.

Sponsorship, where we raised about £700m; ticketing, where we raised about £600m, and merchandising, where we raised about £100m. The remainder of our revenues came from sharing revenue with the International Olympic Committee from their own sponsorship programme and from a share of the TV rights. The big ones over which we have control are domestic sponsorship and ticketing. Probably for me the major achievement of our project was raising that much sponsorship in a time of worldwide economic recession. I think that says a lot about the power of the Olympic Games and the desire of companies here to be a part of it. The thinking behind it was: What can it do for them in the market place? What can it do for them to differentiate themselves with their employees, their workers?  What can it do for them in terms of helping them prosecute their own corporate social responsibility? So we put in place a very professional programme and were successful in getting, in total, about 44 sponsors involved in our domestic programme.

Q. What did you say to them?
The same thing that persuaded me to take the job. ‘You’ve got a chance to be part of the biggest thing happening in your city, in your lifetime, how can you not be part of it? Just imagine the biggest sporting event in the world coming to the most international city in the world. Imagine these two together in your home market and what it can do for you if you’re involved. What it can do for you by differentiating you from your competitors because you’ll be the only one in your sector involved. How you can use it to motivate your own employees and how you can use it to turbo-charge other programmes that you may be interested in–in the community, for instance.’

Q. Can you give me an example of a company you said that to?
I said it to all of them. If you look at our Tier One domestic sponsors—there are seven of them. It’s interesting that three of them have or had the word “British” in their title. You’ve got BP, BT, and BA, and that tells you something about how proud they were that the Olympic Games are in London in 2012.

Q. What were you looking for when choosing your team?
Again, I wanted people who shared the same excitement about this being the biggest thing. So for me, that motivation was very important. And then I looked for people at the senior level who could join us on the seven-year journey from what began as a small start-up organisation with a handful of people, where those at the top had to roll their sleeves up and do all the individual work and planning themselves, to one that after seven years becomes one of the biggest organisations in the country, and where the people in charge of each of the departments have very significant leadership and managerial roles. So, I look for people with the capability to operate at both ends of the spectrum, and then I look for people who really understand how to be team players. Team playing generally, I find, is something that people have—or they don’t have. If they don’t have it, it’s very hard to teach them it. So, it’s really important to me that they demonstrate in past jobs, or in past aspects of their lives how they’ve really worked as part of a team.

Q. Can you give me an example of someone who has these qualities?
The first person I selected was Jean Tomlin, who is our director of human resources. She was absolutely determined to be part of the Games, was very excited by what was coming to town and she had a lot of very senior experience at organisations like Marks and Spencer and the BBC. She had a strong record in running big people mobilisation organisations, but she also had a mentality which allows her to roll up her sleeves and get the work done herself. She helped me build the rest of the organisation which is why I brought her skill set in first.

Q. You’ve said that you were constantly worried that you would only “Get 70 percent of the Olympics right.”  So what was your goal?
I think one of the roles of leadership is to continually challenge yourself and everybody who works for you to do the same.  Try for something a little further than what they may regard as their own stretch target. So, I do that to myself and the organisation and given, in particular, the difficult economic climate that we’ve had to deliver these Games in, it may have been tempting to reduce our ambition. But we have chosen not to do that. We have decided to keep our ambition and just be very hardworking and creative about how we deliver it.

Q. Olympics advocates often highlight a £476 million contingency fund but the actual budget was revised up from £2.4billion to £9.3 billion! Why did the increase happen?
£9.3bn is the Government budget for the project which really deals with the Olympic Park, the regeneration of Stratford, the main transport and security costs. The cost of staging the Games, just over £2 billion, was my budget and the organising committee’s and that budget was entirely privately raised. But you’re correct; the £9.3 Government budget went up, as you say, from essentially four-and-a-half at bid time. The reason for that was that whilst we won the bid, when we looked at the scale of the opportunity for regeneration in East London we decided to do it thoroughly. When you’ve got the ground dug up you really want to make sure you deal with it thoroughly so that you create a developable platform for long term regeneration. So, that’s where the money was spent. Most of it was spent on roads and bridges to make this area liveable; it’s spent on cleaning up the soil on the ground and spent on putting the whole landscape together–drilling tunnels underground to put electric cables in and taking down electricity pylons. So, that’s the reason the budget went up; because we wanted not simply to plonk down some sporting venues; we wanted a thorough regeneration job so the benefits from the investment in the Games would be profound and long-lasting.

Q. Just to clarify, then; what is your precise engagement with that £9.3billion?
We are the client for the venues, so we’re very involved in determining what we need for the Games and making sure that works. And really, from the beginning, it’s our vision for the Games that we can use that investment as a regeneration tool for this part of East London which in London terms is a part of London which most needed new investment.

Q So LOCOG asked for the increase?
No. There are two organisations that are specially set up for the Games –LOCOG, whose job is to deliver the Games, and the ODA (Olympic Development Authority) which builds the new venues. So, the ODA spend the proportion of that budget, the six million or so that applied to the venues in the Olympic Park and we, of course, design it and develop it with them but our spec is to make sure it works for the Olympic Games. They also have the job of making sure that it’s going to work after the Games.

Q. Between the nineties and now, only the 1996 Atlanta Games has broken even. In hard terms, what do you expect as an end financial result?
From the organising committee perspective I expect us to break even. That’s what you aim at. We’re not particularly aiming to make a profit but we’re aiming to make sure that we spend what we raised in order to put on a great Games so, we, too, aim to break even.

Q When will you know?
After the Games.

Q When will that be?
Pretty soon after–September, October.

Q. How can Rio, the host of the 2016 Summer Olympics, improve on your managerial work? What are the things that you haven’t been able to achieve?
I can pass on to Rio what I think are the important things to get a project like this right. You’ve got to have a very clear vision, you have to move quickly at the beginning, to make sure you get everything done. You’ve really got to be decisive, build up the organisation and get the design right. Because the seven years go by in a flash. If you don’t get the work that has a long gestation period done early, you can find yourself very squeezed at the back end of the project when you shouldn’t really be tending to operational detail. You really have to find the best possible people you can find working on this because it’s a very challenging project and you have to work from the very beginning very clearly with the support of your partners in the city, in particular, who will be very important to you in delivering services such as transport and security and all the other things that local government does in terms of cleaning streets and making society work.

Q. Resources are finite, so what can Rio learn in terms of areas that you would have liked more time and money to work on?
The thing I’ve learnt the most during my time working on the Games is just how important it is to make everybody in the community feel as though they can be involved in it. Because when they feel like they can be involved, they really join in and are a part of it and we feel that at the moment, in the way that people  responded to our torch relay which was attracting record crowds everywhere it went—just tremendous community celebrations even when it was pouring with rain. So, my chief takeaway that I’d pass on to them would be: At every possible stage, in every aspect of the project, open it up, let people be a part of it. Just find ways to allow people to join in so they can feel they’ve been part of the Olympic Games in their city because they all really want to and when they do, it gives you tremendous support.

Q. And if you had more time and money what would you tell Rio?
I don’t want more time. The immoveable deadline is actually an advantage because it forces you to make progress. It forces you to make decisions. People who you’re persuading to do things know you’re not bluffing because that deadline is not moveable so you don’t want more time. You should use the time constraint resource to your advantage, not as an excuse for chopping and changing the project. You should use the timetable to define milestones on the journey and drive the project forward on that basis.

Q G4S, contracted by LOCOG, failed to provide adequate security personnel for the Olympic Games 2012, to international and domestic dismay. 3,500 army troops have been drafted in with 2,000 more on standby. How confident are you now of the security delivery?
The safety and security of athletes and spectators is of utmost importance to us. Providing security for an Olympic and Paralympic Games is a big and complex piece of project management but we have the best brains in the security business working on this and I know that we will deliver a safe and secure Games.


(This story appears in the 03 August, 2012 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)