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Buying INK by the Gigabyte
Senior V.P. Venue Development VANOC
In another era one's power was directly proportional to the number of
barrels of ink one purchased. Those days are gone. Independent publishing
has usurped the power of newspaper tycoons. Granted, news tycoons still
have a hold on the gullible and naïve, but the smart-set have access
to information that in the past would have been kicked under a boardroom
table or thrown away with the used ribbon of an editor's Corona.
If you want to make smart business decisions you have to perform due diligence,
which means looking in wastebaskets and under rugs. Smart people know
that just like newspapers, television and radio, some of the information
you see online also isn't true. Fortunately, online, suspect information
can be tossed out with the click of a delete button. Sorting the wheat
from the chaff has always been a coveted business skill, but today it
is even more so when you take into account all the misinformation
being distributed by large companies, governments and organizations. Knowing
what to believe is the new-era Holy Grail.
Matheson Senior V.P. Venue Development VANOC spoke in December 2004
at an NAIOP breakfast at the Hyatt on Burrard. It was the last meeting
of the year for the National
Association of Industrial Office Properties Vancouver Chapter and
it was obvious from the moment Mr. Matheson entered the meeting area outside
the ballroom that he had many friends in the audience. Everyone who shook
his hand welcomed him with friendliness and genuine warmth. He seems to
be a well respected and revered member of the good old boys club. Matheson
last served as Senior V.P. for Dominion Construction. He helped build
General Motors Place, Richmond City Hall and Burnaby Mountain School.
As I watched him make his way through the crowd into the ballroom I wondered
how many of those in the audience would still think of him the same way
after the reality of the Olympic machine shifts into gear.
One of the hallmarks of the Olympics is that it eats its young. The Olympics
operate on a culture of volunteerism that extends to every nuance of the
specter. The Games could not possibly happen if they had to pay their
way on any level. Most companies don't realize until it's too late that
its not uncommon for Sponsors to also act as their own contractors, and
even their own suppliers, therein creating a circuitous conflict of interest
that would never fly in the real world. An even less-obvious, but truly
contentious part of the relationship is that local Olympic committees
and Sponsors also often work hand in hand to define and set the conventions
of the tendering process and delivery of projects. According to others,
it's also happened where the tendering processes was set up so that the
in-house contractors receive the more lucrative and easiest to deliver
segments of the project, and that everything else is pawned off on their
competitors who have no idea that they will fight a perilous uphill battle.
Basically it amounts to a Sponsor buying products and services from itself,
which effectively shuts out other local businesses. All inclusive you
say Mr. Furlong? We'll see.
Once Matheson's friends become aware of this convoluted ethical maze and
how they fit into it things could take a sharp right turn on the genuine
warmth front. You can only have so many best friends, and if anyone in
the room that morning thought they were a shoe-in for Olympic projects
they are in for a rude awakening. Bell Canada verses Telus is a good case
in point. Money talks as Telus learned when Bell outbid them by $65 million
for the telecommunications sponsorship for 2010. But already Telus has
embarked on a subtle "ambush-like marketing" campaign that endeavors
to align their company with the Games through the use of a toucan bird
with an Olympic-style gold medal hanging from its beak, and a slogan that
promises to turn paper into gold. The pitch is that if a company invests
in the Telus package a portion of the proceeds go to amateur sport. Smooth.
The medal hanging from the toucan's beak looks like a Gold Medal from
any sporting competition, but in this Olympic sensitive market the implied
association gets through loud and clear.
Matheson's NAIOP presentation was pretty reserved compared to VANOC CEO
John Furlong's usual Rah Rah Rah cheer, but all in all, it too didn't
amount to more than a superficial rehash of information most people already
know. Matheson started off with the requisite 2010 video to get us in
the mood and then went on to recite statistics in a dry, but very professional
engineering demeanor. For what it's worth, I appreciate his matter-of-fact
delivery more than I do Furlong's minor league coach-style exuberance.
Matheson is believable.
As I listened to him though I couldn't help wonder what Matheson was really
thinking when he told us that in the last few months he's come to realize
that the Olympic machine is much more complex than he first imagined.
What sparked my wonderment was the recent and unexpected departure of
Jeff Chan, one of Matheson's counterparts from the VANOC executive dream
team. I suspect that Mr. Chan, V.P. of HR also realized that the Olympic
machine isn't what he thought it would be and it didn't take him long
to rethink his position. The public still doesn't know why he resigned,
but considering his new found realization of the complexity of the challenge
a number of reasons could be possible, like not getting cooperation from
VANOC or a budget that he thought inadequate to do the HR job properly.
One thing we do know, he wasn't fired. He left of his own volition only
five months into his mandate.
Matheson still has me wondering how he will maintain his good relationships
with the business people at the NAIOP considering that Olympic organizations
have a history of burning bridges. The Olympics is a cult that demands
unconditional loyalty. You are either with them or against them. There
is no middle ground and quite often companies find that they have to contribute
more than they bargained for. It's not unheard of for a Sponsor or contractor
to hound Olympic organizations for many, many months to get them to execute
contracts while nervous contractors invest hundreds of thousands of their
own dollars. Once you start on this slippery slope it's extremely hard
to back out for fear of destroying your public credibility, not to mention
losing your investment. Jeff Chan I'm sure knew it was now or never if
he wanted keep his sterling reputation intact. Sponsors and contractors
rarely have this foresight.
*Ed. Note: We invested over three 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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Learn more about the challenges small
businesses face. Leverage
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.
The information we share here is invaluable in helping
small and midsize businesses leverage Olympic momentum.
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