In my previous article, we looked at Mitt Romney's business record. A review of his business record is not complete with out a look at how he saved the 2002 Winter Olympic games. As a result, it deserves its own chapter in my comprehensive analysis of his economic record.
Looking back, some people will point to the SLC Olympic games as the moment that really launched his political career. Mitt Romney tried to become a Senator for the state of Massachusetts in 1994 but was unable to unseat Ted Kennedy. He went back to business by working for Bain Capital. However, he did not stay in business for long.
The Salt Lake City Winter Olympics was in serious trouble. It was getting rocked by allegations that several members of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) were accused of taking bribes from the Salt Lake Organizing Committee (SLOC). To make matters worse, SLC Winter Olympics had $379 million deficit because sponsors were pulling out since they didn't want to be associated with the bribery scandals. As a result, the 2002 Salt Lake Winter Olympics had a financial and public image problem. Unless they fixed these problems, the games were either going to be scaled back or a new destination would be found for the 2002 Winter Olympics.
The SLOC needed a new leader for the Games. They needed a white knight to save the entire enterprise from collapsing. After looking at several candidates who could turn the games around, the SLOC asked Mitt Romney to be its President and CEO:
The 2002 Winter Games were on the brink of becoming one of the most conspicuous failures in the history of sport. The reeling SLOC desperately needed a new leader, someone who was squeaky clean, someone who had integrity, someone who could restore the world's faith in the Olympic movement. But did such a person exist? A search was launched. "The candidate I'm looking for," SLOC chairman Bob Garff said at the time, "is the white knight who is universally loved."
SLOC found its white knight in Romney. And on the morning of Feb. 11, 1999, Romney took on the responsibility of rescuing the Olympics.
Some people will say that his work in rescuing the SLC Winter Olympics is where Mitt Romney really learned what it takes to become a public leader:
In rescuing the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Games, which had been tarnished by scandal, Mr. Romney learned the ways of Washington and the hurly-burly of politics, mastered the news media, built a staff of loyalists and made fund-raising connections in Utah that have proven vital to his presidential campaign.“The Olympics gave him a public persona he didn’t have before,” said Robert H. Garff, a businessman who served as the chairman of the Salt Lake Organizing Committee. “He grew into the person he is today.”
Although Mitt Romney was picking up new leadership skills, he was also applying his business skills to make the games successful financially. In fact, Mitt Romney broke the record for raising private money for an Olympics - winter or summer and made the 2002 Winter Olympics a profitable enterprise:
But Romney's most remarkable intervention--the one that placed him on a national stage--came with the 2002 Winter Olympics held in Salt Lake City. In 1999 the event already was $379 million in debt, and there were allegations of bribery involving top officials. Romney was asked to head up the games. Under his leadership, they turned into a spectacular success, clearing a profit of $100 million. Romney himself contributed $1 million, and donated his three years of pay ($275,000 per annum) to charity.
"He was absolutely spectacular," says Rocky Anderson, the Democratic mayor of Salt Lake City. "He was a strong leader, extremely competent. He walked into an utter disaster, and slashed spending without cutting corners on what was necessary to put on an absolutely extraordinary Olympics. . . . With his unique management skills we came out in the black--which no one ever dreamed."
There is so much we can learn about Mitt Romney and his economic record from his experience in rescuing the Olympics, but its not possible to contain it in a single blog article. However, if you wish to learn more how he saved the 2002 Winter Olympics, I suggest you read his his book, Turnaround: Crisis, Leadership, and the Olympic Games.
There is no denying that Mitt transformed the 2002 Winter Olympics from a disaster to a success beyond anyone thought it would be. Supporters and foes of Mitt Romney agree that his business and leadership skills were crucial in rescuing this event. While the turnaround is impressive and it certainly bolsters his economic resume, its his leadership skills that are even more admirable especially when circumstances are so bleak as to appear there is no way it can be salvaged. However, true leaders emerge in the face of difficult or even impossible circumstances, and most often, come out victorious.
Many 2012 candidates will, and can, present a great economic record to the American people. But the economic record isn't as important as their leadership record. Rescuing businesses is one thing. But saving the Olympics is a feat that only gold medalist leader could accomplish. Mitt Romney made a giant leap from rescuing businesses to redeeming a massive sports event that dwarfs any business he's ever been asked to save.
With each crisis, he has made financial failures turn into financial success beyond what the original owners dreamed of. He's saved businesses. He's saved an Olympic game. Tomorrow, we will look at his record of rescuing an entire state.