Help wanted: Olympic CEO World-class leader sought to head bid for Summer Games

Top recruiting firm hired

Region is in running with other cities to be site for games in 2012

July 18, 1998|By June Arney | June Arney,SUN STAFF

Top business and civic leaders in Washington and Baltimore have moved into high gear to recruit a dynamic, high-profile person to serve as chief executive of the effort to bring the 2012 Summer Olympic Games to the region.

The names of some of the best-known people in the country have been mentioned as possible candidates, according to several sources close to the discussions.

A prominent executive search firm, Korn/Ferry International, has been retained to help recruit a chief executive. Although the formal qualifications and duties have not been finalized, sources said discussions have centered on finding someone who is not )) only charismatic, but has a proven record in pulling together diverse groups, raising funds and overseeing organizations. No decision is expected for about two months.

The CEO is expected to receive a six-figure salary and be in charge of everything from raising millions of dollars from corporations and hiring staff to crafting a formal bid for the Olympics.

The board that will choose the CEO is evolving. About 10 business leaders who started working together late last year as the Olympic Organizing Committee continued on when the group became known as the Washington-Baltimore Regional 2012 Coalition on June 30. They were joined by about 10 others, who were also present at the early meetings and are now being appointed to the Coalition group. Additional members are expected.

As recently as this spring, conversations at organizing meetings addressed the kind of leader the group wanted at the helm of the Olympic bid, and included such names as retired Gen. Colin L. Powell and Tony Coelho, former majority whip in the House of Representatives.

Powell, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is "being used as an example of the kind of person who would bring instant credibility to the effort," said Kenneth Sparks, executive vice president of the Federal City Council in Washington, who has worked on the regional bid. "It's like when Seattle says they're being supported by the chairman of Boeing and the chairman of Microsoft, that's all they need for instant recognition.

"Powell knows how to organize to get things done, has credibility all over the world, is a symbol of the diversity of our region and is a terrific speaker."

Powell, 61, vaulted to national prominence during the Persian Gulf war. Three years ago he considered a bid for the Republican presidential nomination.

"It's clear to any knowledgeable observer that Colin Powell would be perhaps the pre-eminent individual in the country to best bring together a regional bid, and have that bill prevail nationally and internationally," said a person long involved in the local Olympic bid. "I think he just lifts the whole enterprise to another level."

Whether Powell would agree to participate is unclear. He is in high demand as a speaker around the country, and he is deeply involved in a national program promoting community volunteerism in the private sector.

Washington officials talked with Powell earlier in the bid process, when they and Baltimore were planning competing efforts for the Summer Olympics, according to the source.

Two cities, one effort

The two efforts officially united last month. But leaders from the two cities have been meeting for months.

Talks to combine the bids began in earnest in fall at the suggestion of Mary E. Junck, president of Times Mirror Co.'s Eastern newspapers, which include The Sun, and Donald E. Graham, chairman of the Washington Post Co.

A spokeswoman for Powell confirmed that he had a conversation with those promoting the Washington bid. "He was not aware of the joint effort and has had no conversations with anyone regarding that effort," said Peggy Cifrino, the spokeswoman.

Banker John Morton III, chairman of the Coalition, declined to discuss specific people who may have been mentioned for the CEO position, noting that the search is in its early stages and no formal list of names has been prepared.

Several sources, however, said Coelho's name was discussed in meetings before the current Coalition was formed.

Coelho, 54, served in the House from 1979 to 1989 from California and resigned after failing to report a loan he received. He is regarded as an astute politician who works effectively with diverse groups and is an excellent organizer and fund-raiser.

He is an adviser to President Clinton and serves on several corporate boards and national commissions. He is chairman of the President's Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities.

Coelho currently spends two weeks each month in Lisbon, Portugal, where he is commissioner general for the U.S. Pavilion of the 1998 World Expo, which runs until Oct. 1. He could not be reached for comment.

He was described in a closed meeting of the organizing group as the man who "could easily be the Billy Payne of this effort." Payne headed the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.

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