2012 Games: From intern to sports operations chief

Chris Lipscomb tells Peter Brown how he landed a job procuring equipment for the 2012 Games
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The Independent Online

When times are good, a three-month unpaid internship in a company with a limited lifespan might not seem the most attractive offer. But three years ago, with paid work hard to find, a spell working with the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (Locog) seemed like heaven.

Among the MBA students from London Business School who jumped at the chance was Chris Lipscomb. Now, at 34, he is Locog's sports operations manager. His job involves procuring sports equipment for the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, as well as looking after publications and weather policies, plus Games-specific functions such as the sports information centre.

"We have to provide anything that the athlete doesn't bring," he says. "It might be nets for badminton, boats for sailing, tennis balls, javelins. Until you're on the inside, it's difficult to get a sense of the scale of the Olympics. It's like running 26 football World Cups, in the same city, at the same time." He is, in fact, buying more than 2,000 footballs.

Unusually, Lipscomb had completed his MBA when he took the internship in 2007, so for him it was a gamble. "It was what you should be doing between your first and your second years, to create a good impression and get a job when you leave. It wasn't necessarily going to lead to anything. But I've always loved sport."

For Lipscomb, the big three are hockey, golf, and cricket. A big perk for him was watching the hockey matches in Beijing as part of the observer programme two years ago.

"When I joined the committee in Canary Wharf, I was with human resources, looking at employee costs over the life cycle of the business, almost a consultancy piece of work. After that, there was a three-month paid contract, then another. Then this job was advertised and I got it. I'd proved I could add value."

So, for Lipscomb, the gamble paid off. But it wasn't the first he'd taken. "My wife's Australian and I was working out there in a marketing company when I decided on an MBA. London Business School was ranked as one of the world's top schools."

They took the risk and moved. But when it started, he remembers, the course was a shock. "The work was hard, and suddenly you've got exams all day Saturday. But it gets better."

The international nature of the student intake at LBS has helped him in his present job. "In my study group, there were seven people from seven different countries – and 30 per cent of the mark was based on group work. So it was important to understand each other."

Now he's working with Canadians from Vancouver, Australians from the Sydney Games, helpers at the recent IAAF World Indoor Championships in Qatar, and others. Many of the stakeholders are international – the sports federations and the international Olympic and Paralympic committees. And in 2012, Lipscomb will welcome delegates from Rio de Janeiro, the venue of the 2016 Olympics, to show them how things work.

"There is a chain of command, but you have to work across so many different functional areas, and you're constantly trying to get people to do things just by asking them.

"The whole thing at '2012' is based on relationships, and if you didn't have those communication skills you'd struggle. There's a nuance between leadership and management skills. Here I think it's management skills that count."

He has also found the basic tools picked up during the MBA such as PowerPoint presentations and improved Excel skills extremely useful.

Lipscomb's job will start to wind down the day after the Paralympics close in September 2012. "We'll have 4,000 to 5,000 people and a limited amount of money, so we'll have to get them off the payroll as soon as possible."

And after that? "I'd like to stay in sport in some capacity. But there's plenty of opportunity. In the UK, we've got the Commonwealth Games in 2014, the Rugby World Cup in 2015, and in December we'll find out if we've got the football World Cup in 2018. They all require project management skills."

Market opportunities

* The Olympic and Paralympic Games may bring revenue to London, but what about the rest of Britthe country?

Dr Naomi Kirkup, of Newcastle Business School, Northumbria University, studied the Olympics in Beijing for her doctorate and thinks valuable marketing opportunities are being lost.

Olympic tourists don't deem the destination to be important, she says. "It's more about a personal sense of belonging, a sense of escape and self-esteem, and especially a sense of identity to a particular athlete or sport." She believes that the home towns of famous athletes could make more of them.

* Meanwhile, another business school is selling itself as the nearest to the Olympic Park. Dr Robert Lentell, associate dean of the Royal Docks Business School, part of the University of East London, says it's a useful identifier when recruiting foreign students.

In 2012, the American support team will be based in the university's halls of residence.

'Take transport: Do you use lorries or barges'

Raymond Olayinka, 37, from Nigeria, has just finished a full-time MBA at Cass Business School. This autumn, he completed a two-month internship with the sustainability team at the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (Locog). The aim is to keep the Games green.

"Recycling? The thing is not to generate waste in the first instance," says Olayinka.

"Then there's ethical sourcing. A lot of decisions are being made at the moment. Take transport, for example: do you use lorries or barges?"

His final report dealt with the economic aspects of procurement for the Olympics. "I was looking at cost benefits. You have to analyse products over their entire life cycle – and then you think, what exactly is their value to Locog?

"It's a happy environment and a fantastic team. There's no event that brings the world together like the Olympics. It unites countries which have nothing in common, and I like that very much."

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