Feature of the Week

February 23, 2014 11:38 pm

At the top of his Games

Jamaica's pilot Winston Watts and Marvin Dixon speed down the track during the two-man bobsleigh event at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics©Reuters

Jamaica's two-man bobsleigh team speed down the track at the Winter Olympics

Dmitry Godunov is no stranger to mega-projects. He describes with pride his father’s work as a scientist on the multi-billion rouble Russian space programme, designing life support systems for cosmonauts.

Today, he stands in the command centre of the most expensive Olympics project in history. The Sochi Games are estimated to have cost $51bn.

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Mr Godunov’s role at Sochi is a broad one. Executive vice-president, Command, Control and Communication, he is responsible for risk management; mountain competition venue operations; test events management; planning and co-ordination.

He has leaned heavily on the knowledge and skills he gained during his MBA at Warwick Business School.

“An Olympic organising committee is an extremely complex, fast-growing and dynamic organisation that grows from just a couple of people at the outset to something huge with a lot of very bright people, all stars in their fields.

“Time is so short and every committee needs to do so much, so what I learnt at Warwick about organisational behaviour and the management of complexity has been so helpful.”

After military service and an economics degree at Moscow State University, Mr Godunov began his career at a production plant where he was appointed deputy finance director, before moving to become chief operations officer of 366 – the country’s largest pharmacy chain. He realised he needed to develop his skills further and gain global experience.

An executive MBA – an MBA for working executives – would, he knew, give him systematic knowledge in finance, marketing, personnel etc. “But it was also important for me to study successful practices in real companies around the world, world-class companies,” he explains.

“My company had many international partners, so I expected that after an MBA I would be able to speak the language of international business.”

Winning the support of his employer was critical. “Thankfully they were focused on developing the skills of their top managers, because an MBA is a significant investment of time and you need understanding from your company if you are going to study and work simultaneously.”

He considered studying for an MBA in Moscow, but after deciding he needed to study outside Russia he discovered that a colleague had already studied at Warwick Business School in the UK. “His progress and development so impressed me that I thought this could be the right choice for me too,” he recalls.

It was, he says, a very different experience. “The style of education in Warwick and Moscow is significantly different. In Moscow, it was a classical-style of education, with classical disciplines. But Warwick offered practical tools for executives who already know something about business.

“ When you develop your career in a field and specialise inside a company, you don’t have the ability to touch colocated fields of business, like human resources, or marketing ... For me the miracle of an MBA is that it provides the complete set of tools to understand your business as a whole”.

For Mr Godunov the MBA was three years of hard work, visiting Warwick about every two months for an intensive week of teaching.

“But because I was studying in parallel with working for my company, I was able to apply the knowledge to my business from the very first module.

“I found it very interesting to meet very bright people on the course – a majority of people were already at a senior level in their businesses and brought with them a lot of knowledge and practical examples.”

He finished his MBA in 2009, but instead of returning to the pharmacy chain, he took a logistics and procurement role with the Sochi 2014 organising committee.

“It was a unique opportunity – there are very few businesses in the world which are comparable with the Olympic project.”

He was promoted rapidly and given responsibility for test events across all of the Olympic venues, to assess the readiness of their procedures and capabilities. Having achieved that, he was promoted again, this time to his current role.

“I have responsibility for Games-wide planning, ensuring that different departments and different functions plan their activities with the goal of one synchronised operation at Games time.

Already working 18-hour days, he has found himself working round the clock now the Games have begun. But it is a worthwhile experience he says.

“Sochi 2014 is in every newspaper and on every billboard and my children are really proud that their father is involved in this once-in-a-lifetime experience.”

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