Did Romney Save the SLC Olympics?

By , February 17, 2012 4:55 pm

The AP’s Kasie Hunt and Jennifer Dobner go round and round before they essentially acknowledge that, yes, Romney played a big part in saving the Salt Lake Olympics, a conclusion I came to years ago. During the run-up to the Games, I wrote an extended profile on Fraser Bullock for the Marriott Alumni Magazine, a publication of BYU’s Marriott School of Management.

Bullock was Romney’s right and left hand man and the CFO of the olympian bid to save the SLC Olympics. I interviewed Bullock extensively and Romney once for the article, among a variety of other people. To quote from my article:

According to his boss, SLOC President and CEO Mitt Romney,“he is one of the best CFO/COO’s in the country, if not the best.” And Romney needed the best because when he took over on 11 February 1999, SLOC was tottering at the top of a very challenging bobsled run of its own, one littered with tawdry headlines of tarnished Olympic rings, unhappy sponsors, and financial mis-management. “I always joke that I was already living in Utah, and Mitt wanted to save the relocation expenses,” Bullock adds.

Actually, saving those expenses was a harbinger of things to come. In short order, Romney and Bullock discovered that what you don’t know can hurt you. It was no secret that the media’s new favorite target was SLOC, that the Justice Department was looking for skeletons in SLOC’s closet, and that radio talk show hosts were shouting SLOC’s name from the rooftops. Moreover, SLOC had no operations plan, they weren’t using appropriate financial systems, and they had no Paralympic organization—SLOC is the first organizing committee to do both games. Morale was nonexistent. “The organization was virtually paralyzed; it didn’t know which way to turn,” Bullock explains.

What wasn’t readily apparent at the time of the scandal was that there was a severe financial crisis. Adding up all the numbers, Bullock and Romney discovered that SLOC was headed for a projected $400 million budget shortfall. And the previous twelve months gave little reason for confidence that they could fix the problem: SLOC had raised only $13 million the year before the scandal hit the headlines. “It doesn’t take a math degree to figure out that with about three years to go, the Salt Lake Olympics were in trouble; and at that rate, we weren’t going to be able to raise the funds to close the budget deficit, ” Bullock explains.

Now imagine Santorum or Paul, Gingrich or Obama in the same situation. Hard to do, isn’t it?

So how did Romney and his crew manage? Well, according to my article:

As of the end of October, SLOC had raised $859 million dollars, $395 million more than Atlanta,the previous high. Because SLOC gives 40 percent of what it raises to the United States Olympic Committee and because some of the donations were in kind and therefore not budget relieving, the net impact of the fund raising was to reduce the budget deficit by about $200 million dollars. Add that to the $200 million Bullock and his team were able to cut, and the snake was dead. “So at this point, we believe we’re in a break-even situation, which is exactly where we want to be,” reports Bullock, who recently relinquished one of his SLOC titles, CFO.

Read the story(beginning on page 21). It tells of a turnaround effort that should cause everybody to take a second look at Romney–and then beg that he ask Bullock to be his VP.

UPDATE: On my Facebook page, BYU Professor Warner Woodruff responded to this post:

Warner Woodworth – This sounds too naive, or at least too one-sided. This guy must be a Mormon or a Republican fanatic to have such a love affair with Mitt’s Olympics. From the sources I knew who helped manage the games in 2002, it was a lot more complicated, and Mitt was made to look better than his leadership really warranted. But maybe they were all wrong back then.

And I responded:

Gregory Taggart – Warner, this guy is me, and the article was for an alumni magazine–your school’s–and written before the games even started, so yes, it is one-sided. Nevertheless, the sources I know give him great credit, even as they acknowledge that Mitt didn’t carry the Games on his back, something I don’t think he has ever claimed. Finally, I plead guilty to being Mormon–how did you guess?–and a Romney fan. Fanatic? No. Neither am I naive. Just someone pulling for a guy I like, gaffes and all.

I’ll add that I’m vaguely aware that some of the people involved in bringing the Games to SLC were put out that Romney got so much credit and they so little, due in large part to the scandal. I can understand that. My feelings at the time were that the original organizers were unfairly tarred by the so-called scandal. Not that there was no scandal, mind you. There was, but the goings on seemed to be part and parcel of the bidding process, a process–tainted as it was–that apparently had been going on for years. The unfairness was that it came to light on SLC’s watch. (I stress that these are vague memories, so don’t quote me on this.)

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