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  • Tuesday Talk - Rio 2016 CEO on Hiring, Sponsors, Co-Comm


    (ATR) Sidney Levy tells Around the Rings "there is nothing ahead of us that will prevent us from delivering great Games".

    New CEO Sidney Levy. (Rio 2016)
    Levy, who joined Rio 2016 as CEO last month, made the comments Friday as part of a wide-ranging interview updating ATR on the organizing committee's work ahead of this week's visit from the IOC Coordination Commission.

    Around the Rings: What will be the big points of discussion at the Coordination Commission meetings next week?

    Sidney Levy: The IOC sent us a list of issues they are worried about. We’ve prepared our presentations. We’re going to address the points that are still open. I’m an engineer. I’ve spent all my life in financial institutions. I have a very rational analysis of things. My first analysis is that there are hurdles in front of us, but there is nothing ahead of us that will prevent us from delivering great Games. We have enough capacity to overcome everything that’s still open. That list is a very long list. Everything is manageable and we’re going to deliver it. 

    We have things that are public like the golf course. The mayor is very committed to delivering the first public golf course in the country. It’s a very complicated deal with private developers, us, the mayor, environmental people but we’re almost there, we’re almost finished. We have an accommodations gap which is small, but it used to be much bigger. We have the airport which is critical, but the federal government is committed to delivering a bid in September for concessions for private ownership and management of the airport, including a construction statute that we need to accommodate the Games.

    ATR: Are you going to show the IOC anything new?

    SL: We’ve been working very closely with them. We have a lot of consultants from previous Games. About 10 percent of our workforce is people that worked in Games before and were recommended by the IOC, so they speak the same language.

    ATR: You said everything can be delivered on time, but time is running out, and stakeholders are voicing concerns. Are you at all concerned you may run out of time? What do you say to people who are worried?
    A rendering of the 17th hole from the golf course’s architect. (Hanse Course Design)

    SL: The only reasonable way to answer those questions is by dealing with the dates and the contracts we’re dealing with. The golf federation knows about it, but we have contracts in our hands, we have legislation in our hands, we have dates, we have commitments. This cannot be an opinion. This has to be practical information.

    For example, the Deodoro project is a substantial part of our activities. The government is committed to a very large revamp of the whole facility. The project is ready now, and the tenders will be public March 21. While we can have problems later on, so far everything indicates there will be plenty of time for the test event and everything else. Of course, we’re going to have to very carefully manage that afterwards. We have for the next three or four very critical deliverables. We know what they are, who is in charge, how much it’s going to cost, who will fund it.

    My confidence comes from that because we have a map in front of us, we know who is in charge and we know what needs to be done. With three-and-a-half years until the Games, that’s what we need to know.

    Of course there will be surprises. A very substantial part of what we do is to prepare for the things we don’t know are going to happen. The most critical part of my job is to prepare the structure to absorb the unknown. The known facts, that’s the list we’re working on and we think we’re able to deliver. I will be worried about the unknown later; I’m working on the known.

    ATR: Following the departure of the CFO, what do you think Rio needs to do to keep top-level staff?

    Sidney Levy, Carlos Nuzman and Leonardo Gryner in November. (Rio 2016)
    SL: When I arrived here, there was Fernando Nóbrega and below him there was a Finance General Manager, Marco Beaklini. There was an overlap of the two functions, and I thought it was too much. I asked Nobrega to leave because there is an overlap and he agreed. Of course, part of the reason I did that is that finance is part of my area.

    I understand at the beginning of my job I need to have a very firm grip on that area, and it is better to handle that area directly without a filter.

    We have a retention plan, which is one of the deliverables; it has not yet been approved by the Rio 2016 Board. I am going to put that to the Board on February 27. I’m presenting it to the Coordination Commission and I think it’s a pretty good plan.

    ATR: So will there be another CFO?

    SL: For the time being, I will stay with Beaklini. Our structure is going to change again, I’m sure, because we’re going from 360 to 700 people at the end of next year. We’re going to have other change. I’m still studying what to do but for the time being, I’m keeping the areas of finance, personnel, legal and purchasing as direct reports. I need the information but I’m in this job and everyone knows more than me. I need to learn very fast. The best way to learn is to stay close to the action. I don’t discard the option of having a director in the future.

    ATR: You mentioned the expansion of the organizing committee; how is that coming?

    SL: We have to hire 20 to 25 people a month. It’s really hard. We need the language skills, we need very specific skills and Brazil is booming, we have the lowest unemployment rate in history and we have a very tight budget. Thank god we do have people who love the idea of coming to work here, that’s what’s really saving us. It’s going to be one of the top challenges of 2013 to hire those people.

    ATR: When will the next sponsorship announcements be made?

    SL: We have negotiations in four categories right now. Before June we will announce the categories. One of them will be really good, but I can’t announce it because negotiations are not over. Two public ones are beer and packaged foods. We are in the final stages of those negotiations. We have two competitors in each category.

    ATR: What are the other big challenges for 2013?

    Olympic Games Executive Director Gilbert Felli, Coordination Commission Chair Nawal El Moutawakel and Rio 2016 President Carlos Nuzman at the closing press conference of the last Co Comm in June 2012. (Rio 2016)
    SL: We’re going to deliver the G-40 Budget by the end of April [the IOC asks for a bottom-up budget 40 months before the Games]. It’s the first time we’re quoting and asking every functional area exactly what they want and need, then we have to balance that budget. This is going to be a pretty important part of what we’re going to do later on. The matrices of responsibility for the government comes after that. All those come in the first semester of 2013, and they are going to base everything we do after that.

    Interview conducted by Ed Hula III.

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