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Singelton Urquhart Conference

Risk Management

John Furlong, CEO, VANOC gave the keynote speech at the Singleton Urquhart conference held at the Sutton Place Hotel on April 2, 2004. Other panelists included Jim Mitchell Vice President of Capital Projects PCL Constructors Inc. (check out the splash page of their website), David Thom, Managing Director, IBI Group, Richard Fyfe, Director, Partnerships BC, Alan Hartley, Director and Principal, Stantec, Maria D'Archangelo, LLB, Ministry of the Attorney General, Derek Holloway, Senior VP, Encon Group, George Haddow, Manager, BC Hydro and a host of Singleton lawyers led by John Singleton, QC, Partner, Singleton Urquhart

The conference referred often to issues of Risk Management. Many of the lawyers and insurance companies spoke in detail about the importance of negotiating and executing Olympic construction proposals that were accurate and realistic. The overriding theme throughout the day was to treat Olympic construction contracts with special consideration.

John Singleton drove the point home succinctly when he cautioned the room full of architects, engineers, contractors and developers that they would have billions of people around the world watching as we built the Olympics and that reputations could be irreparably harmed if schedules and cost overages spiraled out of control.

It's bad enough when a jobsite is shut down in normal circumstances and contractors and investors lose money, but when it occurs during an Olympic project the reputation of the Games and the region including all businesses is at stake. Time is of the essence. All you have to do is look to Athens to see the ramifications. It can get very nasty for everyone, including the public living in the Olympic region.

John Furlong gave a rousing keynote address and spoke of how important it would be to start on time and stay on schedule. He played heavily on our sense of pride when he shared with us that if the sport facilities were in operation a couple of years before 2010, it would give Canadian athletes an opportunity to train in the facilities, which could in turn produce more gold medals for Canada. Hometown advantage counts!

It was great to hear John support Canadian athletes. He spoke like a loyal, dedicated sports leader and coach, but as a business person I would have also liked to hear him say that having the facilities open early would give the region an opportunity to lease time to foreign athletes. Revenue generated could counter potential overage costs that in other Olympic regions have ultimately been born by taxpayers. Salt Lake City taxpayers footed overages of $400 million. There's a legacy.

Revenue generated from renting facilities in the GVRD to foreign athletes could be sizable, certainly not in the magnitude of a summer event like Sydney, but it's also important to consider supplementary revenues generated by small and midsize businesses who could provide secondary services and products to athletes and their support teams while they train. Furlong made it clear the 'sport' part of the Olympics were his primary concern, but for many in the room though there were more important business issues to consider.

To his credit, Furlong worked the construction crowd well and got everyone thinking hard about their responsibility. At the end of his presentation he took questions from the audience. I asked him if he thought that reputation played a role and if dealing with the media was going to be an important consideration. I framed the question using his personal experience by referring to the unfair criticism he's received from the press over the last few weeks. News articles had us questioning his capabilities even before he made the cut. After hearing John speak I had a completely different regard for the man.

Can he do it? Yeah, no problem, as long as he represents everyone equally including small and midsize business.

When I inadvertently put him on the spot by asking how he felt about being treated unfairly by media, he said he's been so busy he hasn't had time to read the paper. The crowd were with him and roared with laughter, which by the way was the only laugh I heard in that very serious room all day. Touché John.

You won me over that morning John and you'll have my continued support - as long as you remember to represent small and midsize business in the run to the Games.

Based on my perception of Furlong through the media I had serious concerns about whether he could go the distance. Once I heard and saw him in action my fears were allayed. As long as he surrounds himself with capable executives, including those who understand the challenges of operating small and midsize businesses . . . I think he'll do a great job.

Hilary Lindh, Ecologist and Olympian (3-time ski medalist) also spoke at the conference. Lindh, who was a member of the Salt Lake City Organizing Committee Board of Trustees, warned us how quickly construction plans can go awry when time is running out. She had a list of examples regarding ecological issues that were swept aside in Utah at the eleventh hour. One in particular regarded public transportation over the Wasatch Mountains between Salt Lake and Park Cities.

The original plans called for a bus system to shuttle sports fans, athletes and support teams to Olympic sites over the mountains. Due to a string of events, planned highway improvements and busses never materialized and thousands of people drove their cars instead which caused not only problems on the severely congested and battered roads, but also complications on the Park City side because there wasn't adequate parking. Lindh shared with us that the excuse offered by the SLOC regarding why the transportation plan never materialized was that during the three week period of the Games they couldn't find busses to lease anywhere in the country. Ironically in Utah, as time progressed during the construction phase Olympic related ecological budgets were cut from $5.5 million to $1 million. Go figure. Anyone planning a conference regarding 2010 would do well to have Hilary on the panel. She offers an interesting and thought provoking ecological perspective.

*Ed. Note: We invested two years and a six-figure budget researching Olympic organization relationships with sponsors, contractors, suppliers, partners, etc. The results surprised us too -- mouseover below

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Olympic organizations are
BIG BUSINESS MACHINES that attract corporations like Kodak, CocaCola, McDonald's, Wal*Mart, etc. Consequently, VANOC (Vancouver Organizing Committee) will be stretched thin trying to also develop ways to assist small and midsize businesses leverage Olympic momentum. Surprisingly, many people don't realize the event can also be lucrative for smaller businesses including agriculture, manufacturers, entertainment, technology, retail & obviously tourism, even when they don't have products or services that appeal to Olympic fans or serve a direct Olympic need.

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