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Canada is a country that loves ice hockey and nowhere was that more evident than during the gold medal game between Canada and the US at Vancouver’s 2010 Winter Olympics. Canadians erupted with joy as Sidney Crosby scored the game winner.
According to television ratings figures 80 per cent of Canadians watched some or all of the match.
I was a member of the Vancouver 2010 Olympics organising committee. I witnessed how the games can galvanise the imagination of a nation as a spirited demonstration of national pride, while carving out a distinct international brand unlike any that public policy or international venture can hope to achieve. While Britons may not share the same affinity for hockey, we both share the joy of winning and agony of defeat of our Olympic athletes.
As a dean I often find myself reflecting on the important lessons learnt from the Olympic experience and how they can be applied to business education for our future leaders.
Imagine the following:
●Staging three Super Bowls a day for 15 days.
●Launching a start-up with an operating budget of $1.6bn.
●Hiring 1,522 employees for your start-up.
●Recruiting and training 25,000 volunteers for your company.
●Keeping employees motivated when they know they will be without jobs in several years.
●Operating in a fishbowl where every special interest group is trying to use your company as a platform.
●Knowing that three billion people worldwide are watching to make sure you execute flawlessly.
Any one of these points is enough to make project managers flinch – and these statistics relate to the Winter Olympics, an initiative one-third the size of the Summer Olympics.
While organising any Olympic Games could be the focal case for an MBA operations management class, I would like to focus on the importance of sustainability, legacy building and community service.
The key to success is knowing what you want to achieve. In the case of the Vancouver Winter Olympics, making the games as environmentally sustainable as possible was paramount. For example, we wanted to create a carbon-neutral event. Through partnerships we were able to estimate the amount of carbon emitted as a direct result of the games. We sought to minimise the environmental impact of our venue construction programme and operations, improve waste reduction and deliver environmental legacies for years to come. We succeeded and Vancouver was the first carbon-neutral games.
It is critical for business and government to consider the legacy they are creating. You cannot view the games as a couple of weeks of competition and entertainment, but rather a visionary opportunity to build your community. There is nothing like the Olympics to put a city and country on the world stage. It is positive from the economic and the infrastructure perspective.
In Vancouver, with government co-operation, the city was left with improved transportation, more affordable housing and top-notch athletics facilities. Such elements build a national reputation and attract future investment. Business and government leaders alike can learn to focus on a real, livable vision for their community, Olympics or no Olympics. The games only intensifies this need for a very specific deadline.
Finally and perhaps most importantly, never underestimate the power of service and what can be contributed to create a lasting legacy. Each Olympian, while pursuing a personal goal, is contributing to the reputation and future of their country. Just as national goals are achieved through each individual’s pursuit of excellence, so too are great businesses and great communities.
It took an army of volunteers to make the Vancouver Olympics a success. It was about inspiring a nation to be its best. If London achieves this, the country will be golden.