Paul Deighton in Observe

Observe: So why did you take the job?

Because they let me! I couldn’t believe it. Why was I qualified? I’d been an investment banker my entire career, nearly all of it at Goldman Sachs, and here they were prepared to let me take charge of the biggest sporting event on the planet. The Olympic Games would be something absolutely magnificent and I wanted to be part of it.

What was the first thing you encountered?

I can remember when they announced I was taking the job I realised I had moved from an industry that was very much business-to-business and wholesale, into a business that was very much consumer oriented with massive daily press interest. So on day one I am introduced to the press and I am sitting next to Seb Coe [Lord Coe, Chairman of the London Organising Committee for the Olympic Games] and people are asking me: 'What was my greatest sporting achievement?'. And then the press asking me: 'What are your first Olympic memories?'. I remember I said David Hemery winning the 400m hurdles in Mexico City. To which one of the journalists yelled out: 'Who came third?'. And I gave them the the answer, which is of course John Sherwood!

What were the most critical moments?

There were lots of critical things you had to get right. The first one was to pick the right senior team, because it was too big and too complicated for me to micro-manage everything. So you had to build a core management team that could manage growth through every stage of an organisation. So getting your key hires right was absolutely critical. But really I spent the first two or three years of the seven-year programme really finding out what we had to do in detail, then finding out who was going to do it, then making sure we had the money to pay for it.

What type of people were you looking for?

The beauty of the Olympic Games is that because it is of such a scale and is so inspiring you can attract top class talent. Some of the people I hired were a bit like me; they’d done OK in major organisations but had one big job left in them and thought that doing something like this would be a spectacular way to go out! But I also got some young people who grew with me through the journey and you had to make sure they had the capacity to do that and mentor them through the challenges.

One enduring memory?

The torch relay. As we went from town to town and the crowds got bigger and bigger and more and more enthusiastic, I realised the British people had adopted the Olympics as their own. At that point I knew we had a phenomenon on our hands and it was our job to make sure we cleared out any potential problems and just let the people turn it into an incredible success.

Lord (Paul) Deighton is now Commercial Secretary to the Treasury in the United Kingdom

Photo by Glenn Copus/Evening Standard/REX

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