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  • Bobby, We Hardly Knew Ye


    02/13/14

    The very first mention I can recall of the word “Sochi” came at lunch one day, in indistinct little Russian restaurant around the corner from the bid office – just the kind of place that Bob Stiles sought out and loved. He and I were having soup and some lovely dark Russian bread, and as usual drinking one of the dozens of flavored tea offerings with Dmitry Svatkovksy.

    Dima was the Sydney 2000 Olympic Gold Medalist for Russia in the Modern Pentathlon, and he won a Silver medal in the same discipline competing for the “Unified Team” in Barcelona. Dima served on the leadership team of the Moscow 2012 bid as Sport Director and he was already thinking ahead. He said, “the leadership (a vague term in Russia that could mean anyone from the Sports Minister - then Viacheslav "Slava" Fetisov - up to Putin himself) is thinking about a winter bid for Sochi for 2014…”.

    The Moscow bid for the 2012 Games fell was eliminated in the first round of voting at the 2005 IOC Session. (Getty Images)
    Bob and I were silent, as neither of us knew where Sochi was, and frankly we working hard to keep the Moscow bid afloat. In classic Russian style Dima leaned in, inches from our faces, and with an upturn in his chin, he narrowed his piercing blue eyes and said “Sochi…vhat you think…?” To this day I can’t recall what we actually said, but I don’t remember either of us jumping on it as a “great idea”. Like I said, we didn’t even know where it was. I do remember Dima looking a bit disheartened.

    So the Moscow bid marched (or limped, depending on your point of view) on to Singapore. We did our best and we were voted out in the first round with 16 votes behind New York, Madrid, Paris and London. The team was deflated, to say the least.

    Russians have perfected suffering as a national trait and the initial tears and sulking faces were soon obliterated that evening by a very open and liberal bar at our Moscow 2012 going away party – very little of which I recall, except for stupidly accepting a whisky shot contest with Fetisov – whose hands look like giant hammers – and then someone lifting me out of my seat and helping me to my room.

    I awoke fully clothed. After showering and changing, I rushed (stumbled) downstairs for breakfast, avoiding any direct sunlight due to a massive headache and there they all were, my Russian friends, laughing, looking fresh as daisies and drinking champagne for breakfast. Tough people. Bob was there with them too, bright, fresh and happy as a lark.

    But to be honest we all knew that we got into the Candidature City Phase by the skin of our teeth. The original goal had always been just that, to get into the final round. I still don’t understand why some cities say that (privately) that their goal is to make it to Candidature City status. That is a built-in defeatist attitude. We tell our clients, “You’re either in it to win it or you’ve lost.” That 2012 Host City decision finally went to four rounds by the way, with London winning, who proceeded to give a lesson to all in hosting a great Summer Games.

    Four important things happened during that Moscow 2012 bid:

    • I reconnected with Russia (I’d worked there briefly in 1992 with Delta Air Lines as their country manager) and learned to love and appreciate it and its people – it’s tough for most foreigners but worth the effort;
    • I learned a lot about Olympic bidding from the bottom up;
    • I reconnected with Bob Stiles. Although I initially hired him as a consultant to our firm, we always had a partnership relationship, we had different but complimentary skills – but I am sure that I learned a lot more from him that he did from me.
    • The final important thing that happened from the Moscow bid experience was that the Russians called, right after the loss in Singapore and asked us to help them on the Sochi 2014 Winter Games bid. They appreciated our grit, our ability to work hard and frankly, they liked us, trusted us and we liked them.

    The IOC awarded the Winter Games to Sochi in 2007. (Getty Images)
    Relationships matter in Russia perhaps more than anywhere else I’ve ever worked. And after working there off and on for 20 years, working on six bids for them, four of which were successful, we’ve gotten to know each other very, very well.

    I called Bob and asked if he was “in” but with a twist. Going forward, we wanted him on our team as part of our company, not a consultant. The world of the independent consultant is a tenuous one. Contrary to common belief, the money is not that great and it is certainly not steady, working from event to event.

    It looks glamorous but it is tedious and frankly scary – it’s not for everyone. During the Moscow bid when Bob was a consultant to us, I recall innumerable Skype conversations between Bob, his tax people, attorneys etc. etc. on some obscure tax issues or legal issues pertaining to his work – hours of it. That was before we started work.

    To our delight, Bob said yes and joined us full time and we immediately got to work on closing the Sochi deal.

    The then head of the Russian Olympic Committee, Leonid Tyagachev, was the former sports minister. He was rumored to be a close friend of Putin’s and also his ski instructor. Tyagachev tasked the “three men left standing” after the Moscow bid, Dmitry Svatkovksy, Alexey Sorokin and Alexander Chernov to get the Sochi bid rolling. They immediately called me and I agreed. To this day people still ask me why I agreed to Sochi and all I can say is that I knew the Russians would not do two bids in a row and lose. They were determined – it was a very different feeling from the Moscow bid.

    And I’d never been to Sochi!

    Bob and I took a team including David Woodward of North Design, Charlie Battle, and David Ficklin representing Jerry Anderson of then-HOK all went to Sochi in August 2005 for our initial look around. There was no bid committee, no money, no contract – nothing. All we had was the word of Russia via our three friends Svatkovksy, Sorokin and Chernov. But we believed in Russia and we knew, as it always does there, “it will happen”.

    Bob and the HOK team, along with other Russian colleagues such as the late Andrei Serpilin of BDO and Dima Mosin, also ex-Moscow 2012 team member went to work on an initial sports and venue plan and budgets, while I went to work on the branding, messaging and the answer to “Why Sochi?

    ” I am not sure which was more difficult at that point. I remember the deputy mayor’s office literally covered in maps. Bob looked at the place where the Olympic Park now resides and said, “what is here…?” After a few exchanges in Russian with his colleagues, the deputy mayor looked at us and said “nothing…we can use it all - what do you want to put there?”

    It was an “ah ha” moment and one that frankly only Bob, among us, truly understood in terms of what it could really mean for this bid and for the long term legacy for the city of Sochi. Bob said, and I am paraphrasing from memory, “gentlemen I think we can do something historic for the Olympics here – and for Sochi…we have go over there and look around and measure the place but I think we can offer the Olympic Movement the first ever totally enclosed Winter Olympic Park for all the city/ice venues…including the Village, hotels, lounges, sponsor showcasing – all of it in one place! Do you realize what this means?”

    I have to admit I did not know what it truly meant, and I really didn’t understand the true genius behind Bob’s revelation until it began to take shape on paper and in our narrative. Then it was clear: a built from scratch, tailor made plan for the Winter Games – state-of-the-art, brand new and in a region desperately in need not only of the sports infrastructure, but the accompanying city infrastructure that would needed to host a Winter Games to serve its citizens for generations to come.

    Russian President Vladimir Putin's trip to Guatemala for the IOC Session helped clinch the bid for Sochi. (Getty Images)
    We would also re-introduce a new, vibrant and free Russia to the world, and a Winter Olympic Games for the first time in one of the world’s greatest winter sports nations. Oh, and did we mention it will take place in a summer resort on the Black Sea? This bid had it all, and then some. Most of all, it had Bob.

    Bob already had a vision in his mind that people around the world are now seeing every night on the Olympic broadcast – he could really see those beautiful, incredible new venues in a glorious park in what was then a vast, empty, unused and frankly blighted area. And he was right – he was right more right than he would ever know. I know a lot of adjustments have been made since that Application File those Bid Books were written, but the foundation is essentially the same and it was Bob who conceived it and drove it.

    Bob worked tirelessly on the Sochi bid – it consumed him. We were in Moscow once a month, every month for at least one week, and often two-plus in Bob’s case, working with the new bid committee team brought in by new bid CEO Dmitry Chernyshenko in December 2005.

    There was no detail too small that Bob didn’t stress (obsess) over and care about. He was tireless and reveled being back in Russia. He worked and re-worked that Sochi venue plan – both the city and the mountains. And he reworked them again. He was tireless, visionary, relentless, complex and always kind. He was a true professional.

    And his greatest pride was the Olympic Park – that was a never-been-done-before accomplishment and those are hard to come by in Olympic venue planning. To be sure we had a team of people, foreign and Russian consultants, architects, and analysts working on the bid by now – but it truly was Bob’s inspiration for the Sochi Olympic Park that led to what we see today.

    I watched Bob literally become a different, happier more fulfilled person in Russia. “A New Bob.” Yes he could still call down the hammer of Thor when displeased with someone or something, (if you ever worked with Bob closely, you’ve been singed a time or two from the accompanying lightening bolt).

    But Bob was also a man at peace with himself. Russia gave him that gift and it was a beautiful transformation to watch. The photo at the top of this page is when we were leaving Moscow for what we thought was the last time – July 2005 on our way to Singapore for the Moscow 2012 Final Presentation. Little did we know we’d be back constantly over the next several years, and in Bob’s case finally, to stay and call “home”.

    The vision of Bob Stiles helped create Sochi's Olympic Park. (Getty Images)
    Bob left our firm in 2008, after the Beijing Games and joined the Sochi Organizing Committee as a Vice President. I was sad to see Bob go but also understood it was the best move for him. Bob of course learned Russian again, he fell in love with a Russian lady and got married and frankly, I think he’d always wanted to end his career with an Organizing Committee.

    Tragically, almost one year into his new life in Russia, Bob passed away on a trip back to Atlanta. His loss was devastating to his family and friends and to the new Sochi Organizing Committee.

    Bob touched everyone with whom he worked in a very special, personal way. When he passed, two members of the Sochi Organizing Committee came to Atlanta and stayed with me in our home for his memorial service. Several of us had the opportunity to speak and none of us got through our remarks with shedding a tear or two for our dear friend and mentor.

    As I said, Bob was tireless, visionary, relentless, complex and always kind. He was a true professional. And he was my friend.

    Rest well my friend and know that your vision, your dream for the Sochi 2014 Winter Games not only came true, but also exceeded everyone’s expectations.

    Thank you, Bob.

    Homepage image from Getty Images

    Terrence Burns is a managing director of Teneo Strategy, a global advisory with over 240 employees in 12 offices around the world. He served on the Beijing 2008, Vancouver 2010, Sochi 2014 and PyeongChang 2018 bids as well as the Russia 2018 World Cup bid.

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